Brexit posturing takes a turn for the worse

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s seeming commitment to a free trade deal with New Zealand, post-Brexit, is possibly the worst news for local agriculture as the UK sets out on its course to leave the European Union.

In the first instance, such an approach can only come about if the United Kingdom leaves the Europe’s single market completely. But, more significantly, it also means that the local milk sector may well be competing against one of the world’s largest dairying nations within a tariff-free scenario.

And one assumes that, if New Zealand is on the radar for London, so too will be the world’s other key food producing nations, such as Australia, Brazil and the United States. And all of this is, potentially, bad news for our beef industry. Deals of this nature could also represent a very bad day’s work for Northern Ireland’s cereal sector.

The reality is that many of the so-called ‘Brexiteers’ had made it clear from the get-go that they saw the break with the EU as an opportunity to introduce a cheap food policy in the UK. And this is a challenge that could prove to be insurmountable for food and drink in this part of the world. Given these latest developments, it is essential for Northern Ireland to have a strong voice at the heart of government in Whitehall. But is the Secretary of State James Brokenshire the man to fill these shoes? He has made it clear this week that he will take on the mantle of representing Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, should our politicians at Stormont fail to agree with one another over the coming weeks.

All of this is code for our civil servants taking over the show while Brokenshire manages the optics. Brexit and its aftermath have the potential of being the most important series of events to impact on our farming and food industries in 40 years.

In truth, our politicians picked the worst of all times to walk off the playing field!