Crashing out of EU without a deal a disaster for Northern Ireland: food body chief
A no-deal Brexit will have disastrous consequences for the Northern Ireland economy, it has been predicted.
Declan Billington, chair of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, made the damning assessment after attending a four-hour briefing by government officials on the consequences of an exit without agreement in Belfast yesterday.
The event was organised by HMRC and was aimed at informing businesspeople in Northern Ireland of the possible consequences of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.
"You can't make good regulation out of bad policy and the desire to keep the border open, which we understand, is having an unintentional consequence in that it will damage the Northern Ireland economy," said Mr Billington, who is also chief executive of leading animal feed manufacturer Thompsons.
"Unfortunately, there are no positives coming out of this."
Dr Andrew McCormick, who is director general of international relations for Brexit and whose role has been to oversee the Northern Ireland Civil Service preparations for EU exit, was also present at the event at the Stormont Hotel in east Belfast.
The event kicked off hours after Environment Secretary Michael Gove said no-deal plans could place Northern Ireland's agri-food industry at a "significant disadvantage".
The media was barred from the briefing, but attendees were told that the UK would not introduce any new checks or controls on commodities at the Irish border.
Instead, officials stressed that they would implement controls on limited goods from third-origin countries. This means they will largely rely upon intelligence to identify when goods are being brought across the border into Northern Ireland in order to avoid tariffs on goods delivered directly to mainland UK.
There are fears that the Northern Ireland market could be flooded with goods coming from the Republic, which will, in turn, drive down prices here.
Wesley Aston, chief executive of the Ulster Farmers' Union, who was at yesterday's event, said: "Our position is very clear. We cannot have a no-deal Brexit. It cannot be tolerated.
"We have real concerns that Northern Ireland would be used as a back door into the GB market and we have real concerns about tariffs and about the standards of imported products.
"We have concerns about cashflow if processors can't export products, for example liquid milk, because currently 30% goes from Northern Ireland to the Republic and it can't just sit on a farm waiting to be delivered.
"We could be facing a major crisis and there could be a catastrophic effect on some individual farms.
"We're trying to have no-deal removed once and for all."
Meanwhile, James Allen, managing director of Allen Logistics in Moira, said the haulage industry in Northern Ireland would be set back by 40 years if the UK crashed out of the EU without a deal without a deal in place.
"We can't have a no-deal Brexit - we have to have a deal," he explained. "If there is a no-deal, there will be additional costs for our customers.
"If there is a no-deal, it is going to push us back 30 or 40 years.
"We will just have to be positive and learn to adapt, like we always do."