Brexit is official and will bring challenges

MEP Diane Dodds with (from left) David Simpson MP, Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice
MEP Diane Dodds with (from left) David Simpson MP, Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice

DUP MEP Diane Dodds this week comments on the official triggering of Article 50 and the importance of agriculture in the upcoming negotiations.

This week witnessed the much anticipated official triggering of Article 50. The talks to come will be the gateway to a new relationship with Europe and I believe this offers great opportunities for agriculture in Northern Ireland farming.

We understand that with change there will undoubtedly be challenges along the way. The success of the forthcoming negotiations will be in part a result of how politicians and industry engage. Brexit is inevitable and everyone must now pledge to work together to get the best possible deal.

I believe the Prime Minister’s statement to the House this week sets the tone for how we should move forward. She was pragmatic in her approach to our new relationship with the EU, highlighting that a good deal is in the best interests of both the UK and the rest of Europe.

In her notification letter to the EU Council the issue of the border was given a specific mention and she has reiterated that all parts of the UK will play their part in the negotiation. The DUP have not and will not be found wanting in ensuring that the Prime Minister and indeed DEFRA Ministers continue to recognise the needs of Northern Ireland.

Agriculture’s future has been no stranger to negotiation in Europe and we have always put our case forward during reviews of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), whether that be in terms of policy or budget allocation. Within the context of 28 Member States this had become increasingly difficult and as a result we now have a policy which does not work for productive agriculture here in Northern Ireland. The agri-food industry has great potential for NI and indeed the UK as a whole, and we must better harness this.

Food and drink is an important player in the national economy. It is key for employment and for export led growth, whilst also delivering for the environment, animal welfare and rural areas. A recent study highlighted that for every £1 invested in farming the total return for the economy is £7.40. This demonstrates that post-Brexit investment would be money well spent.

More importantly it would provide a secure supply of wholesome, traceable, high quality food which no-one can live without and in these uncertain times given the most recent debacle in Brazil no Government should outsource.

During a recent Agriculture Committee meeting on trade, I witnessed a marked change in attitude by some in Brussels. A number of members highlighted the need to focus attention on the UK market post-Brexit given how significant it was to their agri-food industry. The reality of the importance of the UK market is finally hitting home and this will only increase as the negotiations continue.

Ultimately what is clear from this week’s events is that Northern Ireland has not been forgotten and our needs have been clearly expressed. It is now time to build on this. Local challenges can and will be addressed but does not require a special designated status.

Instead it requires a special dedication to finding solutions which respect that Northern Ireland is subject to the common direction of the UK. It is clear that our Government, Brussels and the Republic of Ireland do not wish to see a return to the borders of the past.

In fact the parliament resolution makes it clear that the issues of the border are one which they take seriously in the upcoming negotiations. The reality is that all sides are willing to find solutions to ensure that this is the case. Sinn Fein wants to make the border an overarching issue, which is regrettable but unsurprising.

Brexit is happening and protests and grandstanding will not deliver for farmers or Northern Ireland as a whole.