Brexit papers make ‘sobering’ reading

A European Union flag in front of Big Ben. Photo credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
A European Union flag in front of Big Ben. Photo credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the first set of the UK Government’s Brexit ‘no deal’ technical papers makes for sobering reading and reinforces the importance of securing a suitable exit deal.

The Union has warned of a ‘cliff-edge scenario’, which would have disastrous consequences for farm businesses and the economy.

Pointing out that March 2019 is fast approaching UFU president, Ivor Ferguson said they recognise the UK Government must prepare for all outcomes.

He added: “While the papers don’t say much we didn’t already know on either future agriculture policy or trading arrangements, which are the major issues for us, they are a stark reminder of what is at stake if we end up in a no-deal situation. The importance of maintaining free and frictionless trade with the EU for the farming industry cannot be overstated.”

The border remains a key issue and from the outset of the Brexit negotiations the UFU has stressed that any solution must ensure minimal disruptions to trade north and south, while at the same time, not hamper trade east/west.

“GB remains our biggest market and the Republic of Ireland has always been one of our main trading partners. Trade between Northern Ireland and the ROI existed long before either country joined the EEC. It is essential that it is maintained,” said Mr Ferguson.

He said that while the UFU believes that it is possible for the UK and EU to reach a deal, farmers need to be prepared. “A no-deal would be the worst possible outcome for the farming industry. The UFU is continuing to work with our farming union counterparts in GB to urge both sides to find common ground on outstanding issues and ensure an exit deal is agreed.”

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said that a “fair and balanced” agreement can still be reached with the European Union.

He also said the public has a right to know about the consequences of any likely Brexit outcome. Further such guidance documents will be published in the weeks ahead.

“No deal is obviously one of the least preferred outcomes of the Brexit negotiations. It would mean high instability across the UK economy and have a serious impact on many areas of our lives,” added Mr Nicholson.

“This is particularly the case for UK agri-food. A no deal scenario - exiting the European Union without a negotiated agreement and trading with the bloc on WTO terms - would cause considerable disruption for Northern Ireland’s farmers and our food and drink processors. For example to assist with navigating the additional red tape that could apply without a Brexit deal British exporters to the EU have been advised to review their software and consider engaging the services of a customs broker.

“Guarantees have been given by the Government in relation to rural development funding and farm payments within this first batch of guidance papers. This means there will be continuity in these areas should no agreement be reached between the UK and EU.

“Given the fact that we are months away from the Brexit deadline, it would be imprudent for the Government not to prepare for all eventualities. Ultimately, the public has a right to know about the consequences of any likely Brexit outcome.”

The Ulster Unionist MEP continued:“Whilst “no deal” may be dominating the headlines, there is still time for a fair and balanced agreement to be reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

“My own sense is that Brussels is finally coming round to the idea that the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be a bespoke deal. It was always unreasonable for the EU to insist that the UK could only have an “off the shelf” model given the importance of the UK market to the EU and vice-versa.”

Michael Bell, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association said a no-deal Brexit scenario is the worst-case outcome and one which he hopes will be avoided.

“However, in the absence of significant progress, we welcome the publication of these notices, which confirm that a no-deal exit from the European Union would be disastrous for our food and drink industry.

“We share the concerns of colleagues across the UK in relation to the additional burdens which could be placed on the sector if there is a no-deal exit. Any UK food that currently displays EU marks or logos could face a ban on exports to the EU for at least nine months, which would be detrimental to many producers.

“Northern Ireland is uniquely affected by Brexit and the implications of a no-deal exit would be even more significant here than in other parts of the UK. There is still no substantive information on how businesses here can mitigate against these unique challenges and we call on the UK government to provide guidance as a matter of urgency.

“As the consequences of a no-deal scenario become apparent, the need for a deal is more crucial than ever.”