Belfast Telegraph

No-deal would be a catastrophe for agriculture: Northern Ireland farmers

By Lauren Harte

The Ulster Farmers' Union says there is no other option but to support the Prime Minister's Brexit deal and is urging MPs to take all the necessary steps to avoid a no-deal scenario.

In a letter to all MPs ahead of next week's meaningful vote on Theresa May's deal, the UK's four main farming organisations highlighted the serious implications a no-deal Brexit could have for UK agriculture.

The UFU - along with the National Farmers' Unions in England, Scotland and Wales - have urged MPs to "take all the steps necessary to avoid such a departure coming to pass", which they say could have catastrophic impacts for the food and farming sector.

They say a no-deal Brexit could cause huge disruption as a result of an effective trade embargo on the export of UK animals and animal-based products.

According to the unions, affected sectors would face particularly high customs tariffs on exports, such as 65% on beef, 46% on lamb and 27% on chicken.

The farming organisations have also warned of impacts on UK production if the Government unilaterally lowers the UK's import tariffs to control food price inflation. They say this would leave the UK market open to imports of food produced to standards lower than that produced by British farmers.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson told the Belfast Telegraph last night: "There has been no change in our position, taken last October by our executive, that we would be better supporting the Prime Minister's deal rather than a no-deal which would be an absolute disaster for Northern Ireland farming.

"It's a huge concern for us that some Conservative politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson would be quite happy to open the UK up to imports of food that would be beneath our standards. We as farmers would find that totally unacceptable.

"Our other concern in the event of a no-deal is that we wouldn't be able to export our products to southern Ireland or the rest of the EU. All of those markets are important to our members. Mrs May's deal is the only deal that's there with no other options on the table. It's either that or no-deal which certainly wouldn't suit the farming community of Northern Ireland.

"You can't change farming policy overnight. There is no such thing as a contingency plan in this long-term business."

Mr Ferguson had this message for MPs ahead of next week's Westminster vote: "Farmers would like to see this deal going through because it would keep us in business and allow us to trade both in the GB and EU markets."

In their letter, the farming unions said Brexit will mean that, for the first time in a generation, UK politicians will have direct responsibility for ensuring our nation is properly fed.

It added: "Yet, in the face of this fundamental responsibility, there is a very real risk that a disorderly Brexit will lead to an immediate reliance on overseas imports, produced to lower standards, while many UK farms struggle to survive.

"The implications would represent an historic political failure.

"Our organisations remain committed to playing their part in managing Brexit in the best interests of farmers and the UK public in the years ahead.

"We believe that leaving without a deal on March 29 will lead to the opposite outcome."

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