Diane Dodds has declared that Theresa May’s Brexit deal risks leaving Northern Irish farmers and businesses facing “new barriers” to trade with the UK mainland.
The DUP MEP today sets out her views in a platform piece for the News Letter, spelling out in detail her party’s objections to the blueprints.
It comes after a mounting number of figures from business lobby groups and the UFU (which says it represents about 11,500 farming families) welcomed the plan – or at the very least said it is better than no deal at all.
On Thursday, the UFU’s president Ivor Ferguson had said his union “cautiously welcomes the progress made”.
Then yesterday the UFU’s chief executive Wesley Aston went further, saying on BBC Radio Ulster: “We’d support the deal going through and against that background we’d ask the DUP to consider voting for this deal.”
Among the things in the plan are details about the workings of the controversial backstop would work, which would govern cross-border relations in the event that the EU and UK government fail to negotiate a comprehensive deal after the post-Brexit transition period expires.
Mrs Dodds said it would mean “Northern Ireland remaining in EU single market rules for goods, including food standards, while Great Britain is not... Economically it would mean vastly increased checks on food and agriculture products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
“Practically this creates new barriers for businesses, including supermarkets seeking to fill shelves across our Province.”
The plan also sets the stage for the divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain to grow she said, adding: “Although this deal may give certainty to trade on day one that certainty is far from guaranteed for months and years down the line.”
Earlier yesterday, Tina McKenzie of the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) told Radio Ulster: “Every business organisation I know across the Province has actually sighed a sign of relief about the fact we get to trade across the UK unfettered and and we get to trade across Europe unfettered.
“That is a good day for Northern Ireland.”
Her organisation is understood to be the biggest such group in the Province, with roughly 6,000 business owners as members, mostly employing under 250 staff.
It and three other heavy-hitting lobby groups last night issued a joint statement welcoming the Prime Minister’s deal.
Meanwhile, the UUP have likewise heaped criticism on the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan.
And last night, East Antrim farmer and prominent Brexit campaigner David Campbell rounded upon the UFU for taking a public position on it, without canvassing the views of UFU members first.
Since details of the Brexit deal began to emerge on Tuesday night, major accountancy firm EY, the NI Food and Drink Association, and the NI Retail Consortium have all also issued statements generally welcoming the news.
The NI Chamber of Commerce – representing about 1,200 firms of all sizes and sectors, totalling about 100,000 workers – had said that while more time was needed to study the detail, “any deal is better than no deal”.
Then last night, the chamber, FSB, Institue of Directors and CBI, all put their names to a statement saying: “The draft withdrawal agreement is a welcome step forward which provides some much needed clarity that local businesses have been calling for.
“While by no means perfect, it provides a platform to move onto the critical next stage and allows work to begin on formulation of a comprehensive future trade deal.”
The previous evening, on BBC show The View, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson was asked about the fact businesses and the UFU seemed generally supportive of the deal. He replied: “They’re entitled to their opinion. But, with respect, I believe they are wrong. I don’t believe they have read the detail of this... they haven’t read the 500 pages, they haven’t had legal advice as we have had on the detail of all of this.”
And David Campbell, prominent unionist and UFU member, last night hit out at his union’s leadership, saying: “I was shocked to hear the union president endorse this obnoxious plan which threatens to undermine our security within the UK.
“He’d do well to remember that a majority of UFU members voted to leave the EU, and his comments, which would appear to have been made without any canvassing of member opinion, would appear to undermine the democratic nature of the UFU.”
Writing today in Farming Life, ex-BBC Farm Gate presenter Richard Wright warned of the danger a general election could pose, saying: “While the influence of mainstream farming with the Conservatives is not what it was, it would be non-existent with a Corbyn administration.”