Local agriculture sector must make its voice heard

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election on June 8th will be a ‘de facto’ second referendum on Brexit.

And make no mistake, this is one debate which agriculture in Northern Ireland must fully participate in.

Prior to last year’s EU referendum, the voice of farming was not heard at all. And that was a mistake.

The result of the Brexit referendum constitutes the most important decision taken by the voting public in the United Kingdom for almost 50 years. Since then the scope of the challenges - and opportunities – that will confront agriculture and food in the wake of the UK formally leaving the EU have become apparent.

So there are now real questions for all the political parties in the UK to answer, where Brexit is concerned.

Chief among them are: what level of direct support will agriculture receive once Whitehall takes over the financial purse strings? And then there are the issues of Britain’s future trade arrangements with the rest of the world and how the Irish border issue will be addressed.

Overarching all of these weighty matters is the acceptance that farming and food are the sectors that will be most affected by Brexit. Last time around the Ulster Farmers’ Union took a very neutral stance on this matter. This must not be allowed to happen again in the run-up to the June election.

Union office bearers have indicated that a Brexit policy paper is being developed and should be ready for launch at this year’s Balmoral Show.

Given yesterday’s developments, this document must be tweaked to become that organisation’s election wish list. And the first question that should be dealt with is the very obvious one ie: is Brexit, fundamentally, the right option for farming and food in Northern Ireland?

In essence, Theresa May is giving the UK a second chance to assess its fundamental position, where Brexit is concerned. So it behoves all our farming and food lobby groups to re-visit this very seminal issue from a similar point of view.

The upcoming general election should also stir our own Stormont cohort of politicians into action.

Their voices must be heard in the upcoming election debate. And this can only be achieved in a meaningful way, once the Executive is up and running again.