Belfast Telegraph

Give us clarity over your plans for no-deal Mr Prime Minister, pleads Ulster Farmers' Union

A flock of sheep is herded past Government buildings in Whitehall by Farmers for a People’s Vote
A flock of sheep is herded past Government buildings in Whitehall by Farmers for a People’s Vote
Ivor Ferguson
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The Ulster Farmers' Union has said the Prime Minister must provide clarity on plans for Northern Ireland's agri-food industry after Brexit.

The union is a vocal critic of a no-deal Brexit, saying it could cause untold damage to the farming sector.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson has written to Boris Johnson to say assurances from Government officials that UK production standards won't be undermined is not enough.

"Tariffs ultimately protect our industry and the current no-deal tariff proposals are a major disadvantage," he said.

Mr Ferguson made the comments after meeting Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, who is charged with preparing the UK for a no-deal Brexit; Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, and the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson.

"I have put my questions to UK Government officials and have yet to hear a satisfactory answer," he said.

"We keep hearing about 'new and exciting' trade deals but what negotiating power will the UK have left under the proposed no-deal tariff schedule? I am looking to the Prime Minister to provide clarity in relation to tariffs, trade and his plans to ensure a viable future for agriculture in Northern Ireland."

Mr Ferguson added that the UFU respected the result of the Brexit referendum, but it was "essential" the UK left the EU in a managed way.

"Agriculture and agri-food are major contributors to Northern Ireland's economy and no-deal Brexit threatens not only the livelihood of our farming families, but those working in processing and agri-food.

"Our ultimate aim is to secure a deal that allows trade between NI and GB, as well as NI and the Republic of Ireland, to continue with minimal disruption and also enables as frictionless as possible trade with the rest of the EU," said Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson said the UK is only 60% self-sufficient in food products, and farmers and growers in Northern Ireland are in an "ideal position" to fill the gap - but any hopes of this have been dashed by the proposed no-deal tariff structure.

"Unfortunately, in a no-deal situation the proposed tariffs leave NI's farmers exposed to the full effect of competition from countries where standards of production are often considerably lower than our own," he said.

He said a proposed zero tariff on agricultural goods coming from the Republic to Northern Ireland would drive down farm gate prices and open a door to illegal trade, which called into question the integrity of the local and UK-wide agri-food industry "and ultimately the UK agri-food industry as a whole".

Yesterday, the Farmers for a People's Vote group protested by driving a flock of sheep past the Cabinet Office in Whitehall.

This follows a report from a former chief economist at the National Farmers' Union that warned a no-deal would put half of the UK's farmers out of business.

Causes are said to include the imposition of trade tariffs, border checks and cheaper imports from the EU.

The Government has pledged to replace EU subsidies to farmers until 2022 after a no-deal as well as taking "full account of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland".

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