Farmers’ groups on both sides of the Irish border are unhappy with proposals in a leaked memo suggesting trade in agri-foods could be done on an all-Ireland basis post-Brexit.
The memo, seen by Irish broadcaster RTE, is reported to have come from the office of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
It suggests that while cross-border trade would be subject to customs controls, agricultural produce could be treated separately.
In practice, this could mean trade controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Responding, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said yesterday that the erection of any barriers to agricultural trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is a “red line”.
That view was shared by both the DUP MEP Diane Dodds, who said it would be “politically and economically catastrophic”, and the Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson who described the proposals as “a non-starter”.
Both the UFU based in Belfast and the Irish Farmers’ Association based in Dubln stressed the importance of agricultural exports to Great Britain.
UFU president Barclay Bell said: “It is absolutely essential that whatever is eventually agreed must also allow Northern Ireland to continue to sell food into the rest of the UK without any additional controls as this will remain our main market. For the UFU maintaining that is a red line issue in the negotiations.”
Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy said: “The proposal does not address the economic and trading concerns for farming and the agri-food sector, either in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Great Britain is a much larger market for both economies than the internal market on the island of Ireland.”
Mr Nicholson said: “This leaked memo is yet another example of flawed thinking within the European Commission. Quite frankly, it is a non-starter.
“Northern Ireland’s most important single market for sales in agri-food – as with every other major sector – is Great Britain.
“For instance, in 2012 alone, agri-food sales from Northern Ireland to Great Britain were worth some £1.9billion, compared to just over £700m for Northern Ireland agri-food exports to the Republic of Ireland.
“Equally, Great Britain is a vital market for the agri-food sector in the Republic of Ireland: 80% of Irish agri-food exports to the United Kingdom goes to Great Britain.”
Mr Nicholson added: “I welcome the fact that the Irish Farmers Association has distanced itself from any proposal that would put at risk seamless, frictionless trade between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.”
Speaking to the BBC, Mrs Dodds said: “It is not going to happen.”