Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Farmers: Gove comments confirm 'no-deal' Brexit risk to NI agriculture

UFU president Ivor Ferguson welcomed Michael Gove's comments.
UFU president Ivor Ferguson welcomed Michael Gove's comments.
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has said comments from Michael Gove on the threat a "no-deal" Brexit would pose to UK agriculture confirms concerns shared in the sector in Northern Ireland.

On Thursday, the UK environment secretary and staunch Eurosceptic told the Oxford Farming Conference there would be "considerable turbulence" for British farmers in the event of a "no-deal" Brexit.

He warned that lamb and beef exports could face EU export tariffs of at least 40% if the UK reverted to World Trade Organisation Rules under such a scenario, in addition to increased border checks.

“The turbulence which will be generated by our departure without a deal would be considerable," he said.

“The combination of significant tariffs, where none exist now, friction and checks at the border, where none exist now, and the requirements to re-route or pay more for transport when current arrangements are frictionless, will all add to costs for producers."

Mr Gove added the smaller farms would be the worst affected and urged MPs to support Prime Minister Theresa May's deal, as it would guarantee tariff and quota-free access to EU markets.

In recent months the UFU, which has more than 11,500 members in the province, has continually warned of the detrimental affect a "no-deal" exit from the EU would have on farming in Northern Ireland.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove (Kirsty O’Connor/PA0

In a statement on Friday, president of the UFU, Ivor Ferguson, welcomed Mr Gove's comments, especially given the environment secretary's Eurosceptic stance.

"He clearly now accepts that the opportunities that will bring can only be positive for farming in all parts of the UK if linked to arrangements that allow us to continue trading with the EU-27 on the basis of open borders," said Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson said there was an element of realism in Mr Gove's comments that in the short-term farming and the food industry would experience turbulence over Brexit.

“These are all issues for the debate, but the most immediate threat remains the fallout from a no deal Brexit, if parliament cannot agree a way ahead," he added.

"We want certainty, but that will take time. However, we have no doubts that leaving the EU in March without a road map to a trading relationship would be a financial disaster for all farmers in Northern Ireland.”

Others, however, are more optimistic about a "no-deal" Brexit's affect on Northern Ireland agriculture and business.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP's Brexit spokesperson, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Northern Ireland farmers and businesses should be "totally relaxed" by the prospect of such leaving the EU without a deal.

"They should be more worried about this deal because this deal is going to keep them tied to EU regulations, it's going to cut them off from the GB market where we send 60% of our exports and it's going to stop us participating in UK trade deals in the future," he said.

With less than two weeks to go until the vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal, the PM and her allies are rallying for support among MPs to ensure the deal passes through parliament successfully.

Many however, including the DUP, have said this week they are still on course to block the deal when it comes to the floor of the Commons.

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