By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has highlighted comments by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson that the treatment of the province by David Cameron shows that the only way for Scotland to achieve more powers is to vote ‘Yes’ in next year’s referendum.
The Northern Irish First Minister’s comments followed a long-awaited meeting with David Cameron where the Prime Minister refused to devolve corporation tax to Northern Ireland, deferring the issue until after the Scottish independence referendum.
On Tuesday of this week, Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers met Mr Cameron to request that the power to set Northern Ireland’s corporation tax should be devolved to Stormont. The policy has all-party support at the Northern Ireland Executive and the backing of the secretary of state.
Businesses in Northern Ireland say that they are hampered in their attempts to develop the Northern Irish economy as the rate of corporation tax in the Republic of Ireland is substantially lower. This makes new companies thinking of investing in Ireland more likely to consider the Republic than Northern Ireland and puts the province at a significant disadvantage.
In the last 30 months, foreign companies have created more than 35,000 jobs in the south. Northern Irish politicians hope that cutting the rate of corporation tax to 17.5% would encourage similar outside investment in Northern Ireland.
Speaking to Ulster television, Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of the NI Independent Retail Trade Association, described the meeting with the Prime Minister as “bitterly disappointing”.
Mr Roberts said:
“This will be deeply disappointing to Northern Ireland’s business community that the decision on Corporation Tax has been effectively binned by Downing Street.
“Setting our own local Corporation Tax rate was the settled view of all the main business organisations and the five main political parties and it is to be regretted that the Prime Minister ignored that united view.”
Northern Irish First Minister Mr Robinson, a Unionist, said he had made it plain to Mr Cameron that deferring the decision would be counter-productive to the campaign against Scottish independence.
Mr Robinson said:
“We can’t understand that reasoning because we think it sends a message to the people of Scotland. What, effectively, you are saying to the people of Scotland is that if you want more fiscal autonomy than you have at the present time the only way to have it is through independence. I think that is the wrong message for the government to be giving to the people of Scotland.”
Commenting, Stewart Hosie MP, the SNP’s Westminster Treasury spokesperson, said:
“This is a monumental misjudgement by the UK government – and Mr Robinson’s comments have let the cat out of the bag.
“Westminster’s failure to deliver devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland shows how empty the promises of more powers for Scotland from the anti-independence parties are.
“Within 24 hours, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s vague remarks about more powers after a No vote have been exposed for the nonsense they are. The promise of more devolution was given and then broken in 1979 – instead we got Margaret Thatcher, deindustrialisation, and the Poll Tax. Make no mistake – the anti-independence parties in the No campaign are up to their same tricks now.
“Mr Robinson’s remarks have helped to make matters crystal clear – a ‘Yes’ vote for independence next September is the guaranteed way to achieve the economic and welfare powers that Scotland needs to build a strong economy and fair society.”