The News Letter has spent a number of days trying to look into how the Protocol affects livestock breeders.
What has emerged is a portrait of utter confusion, with farmers themselves continuing to encounter red tape which the EU claims to have lifted.
LATEST TWIST IN THE SEA BORDER SAGA BEGINS:
This all began last Saturday, when the News Letter reported that Ulster breeders are expected to miss out on the 50th anniversary show of the Limousin Cattle Society taking place in Carlisle in July – a major part of the farming calendar.
This was because it was widely believed that once cattle went from NI to GB, the sea border rules meant that they had to stay in GB for six months before they could be brought home – something so costly it was basically impossible.
Harry Parker, boss of the cattle society, had told the News Letter last weekend that these post-Brexit arrangements are “bizarre – and it’s putting our Northern Irish members at a disadvantage”.
And during the week, DUP MLA and cattle farmer William Irwin told Farming Life about someone he knows who was barred from bringing a bull home from an English show for six months because of the Protocol.
Mr Irwin – who sat for several years on Stormont’s farming committee – dubbed the situation “preposterous and untenable”.
What has happened since is the EU Commission has told the News Letter that, in fact, these rules no longer apply – and haven’t done for months.
Here is what it has said: “Since early 2021 the commission has been engaging thoroughly in finding flexibilities and technical solutions to ensure full and effective implementation of the Protocol.
“Participation of livestock in trade shows/exhibitions is one example where flexibilities in existing EU law can facilitate the movement of cattle.”
The EU Commission says it re-wrote those rules last autumn, and that as of January 2022 cattle, sheep, and goats do not have to “wait for a six-month minimum residency period in GB before returning to NI”.
For the avoidance of any doubt, it added: “As an example, according to standard EU rules a sheep transported from NI to a fair in GB, but which remained unsold at the end of the event, had to wait six months in GB before returning.
“Thanks to this amendment of EU law, the sheep can now return to NI without any waiting period.”
‘THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE WERE TOLD’:
Upon learning that the EU no longer demands six-month waiting periods, Mr Parker told the News Letter this is “completely the opposite of what we’ve been told”.
He added: “I personally can’t understand how it hasn’t been communicated. It’s a big, big thing.
“It isn’t just the British limousin breed [that is affected] – it’s other cattle breeds as well.”
Efforts were made to obtain answers from Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
It initially did not respond for about a week, then came back with a statement about something called a new EU “bespoke export health certificate”.
It suggested these certificates in turn rely on kind of a vetting process for venues where the certificates are to be used.
Here is DAERA’s statement in full: “In 2021, following an intervention by Minister Poots with the DEFRA SoS and EU Commission in relation to the unworkable Protocol-related requirements for the attendance of NI animals at shows/sales in Great Britain, the EU Commission published a bespoke Export Health Certificate.
“This certificate removes the need for a six months residency period in Great Britain, thus enabling NI animals attend shows/sales in Great Britain and return immediately to Northern Ireland following end of show/sale.
“A working group made up of industry representatives, DAERA and UK Government officials was subsequently established to take forward the implementation of these plans.
“Central to delivery of these plans is the approval of the establishment holding the show/sale. Guidance has been forwarded to industry and we are currently taking forward approval of those establishments which have expressed an interest in holding such an event.
“The Minister raised the issue again this week with the Defra SOS to ensure it is progressed and to state that while this is approach goes some way to resolve the issues, it once again highlights the unworkable nature of the protocol.”
DAERA was asked to clarify how these certificates are meant to work but didn’t reply.
‘IT IS UP TO DAERA TO INFORM ITS OWN CITIZENS’:
The News Letter also went to DEFRA in London – DAERA’s counterpart on the UK mainland.
DEFRA said: “The UK Government secured a derogation from EU rules to allow consignments of cattle to move between Northern Ireland to continue to enter Great Britain for shows and sales, and then return within 15 days.
“We have communicated this change to the livestock industry.”
The EU Commission likewise told the News Letter that “we communicated widely on this”, before adding: “however, it is entirely for the UK authorities (for example DAERA) or any other relevant authorities in Northern Ireland, to inform their own citizens about applicable rules and legislation”.
And when the News Letter ran DAERA’s statement past the EU Commission, it replied by simply saying this: “From the EU’s point of view, these rules have now been fully changed.
“If the UK has decided to add additional internal conditions, such as what you outline [in DAERA’s statement], then that is a question for the UK and not for the Commission.”
SO WHERE DOES THE UFU STAND ON THIS?:
The UFU has said there “isn’t just a simple solution” to the problems NI farmers face with the sea border.
It acknowledged that the EU has “made some amendments to the export health certificate... which will allow NI animals to return straight back to NI if they have been in GB for 15 days or less – however additional constraints have been applied to use this”.
It continued: “These constraints include that the animal must have been kept separate during the show and sale, the animal must not have contact with animals of a lower health status during their time at the event.
“This is just totally unpractical and puts NI breeders at a disadvantage to their counterparts in GB.
“In practical terms this would mean that NI livestock would have to go through a separate livestock ring or have their own sale so realistically in practical terms this isn’t going to work.”
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