Most farmers wanted out, insists McIlveen
A DUP minister has claimed a majority of farmers in Northern Ireland were keen to leave the EU.
However, Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen also said the “outworkings” of the UK vote to Leave are still being worked through. But with more than two years of negotiations ahead, the SDLP’s Justin McNulty asked Ms McIlveen: “What guarantees can you give to our farmers that their single farm payments will continue beyond the two-and-a-half-year period?
“How much reassurance and comfort can you give them that they will be better off as an outcome of leaving?”
Ms McIlveen said: “Obviously, the outworkings of the result last Friday (June 24) are still being worked through.
“It was very clear, during the campaign and the Assembly campaign, that the majority of farmers were keen to leave the EU, primarily because of issues around red tape and bureaucracy.
“That is certainly the evidence that we received on the doors and in the number of visits that I have made in my time in office.”
The minister said single farm payments would continue to be paid while the negotiations go on — and she has asked her officials to process payments for last year as quickly as possible.
And in a written Assembly answer to her party colleague MLA Sydney Anderson, the minister added that the referendum vote “will inevitably change the relationship that my department has with Europe”.
“At this early stage I cannot give you any detail on the mechanisms of our exit. However, it will be my top priority to ensure our agrifood industry, rural communities and environment stakeholders make the best of this new opportunity,” she said.
“Although we have voted to leave, this will not take effect until the Government has negotiated a withdrawal treaty with the EU.
“This negotiation will take a number of years to complete. EU support for our farmers and our current trading arrangements will remain in place during that time.
“We will be negotiating new trading arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world and I will be working to defend the interests of our agrifood industry in these negotiations.
“As we move forward I intend to develop a strong and closer working relationship with the Defra minister, and my counterparts in the Scottish and Welsh governments, to ensure I deliver all that I can for farmers, foresters, fishermen and the environment in Northern Ireland.”