Minister’s comments show Brexit uncertainty: MEP

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Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that the Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen’s comments regarding the implications of a Brexit for agriculture, as reported in Monday’s Newsletter, underscore the degree of uncertainty for the agri-food industry associated with a vote to leave the EU tomorrow (Thursday).

Mr Nicholson said that while the Agriculture Minister stated that she could see no reason why support would cease outside the EU she was unable to guarantee what level would be provided.

He said: “Leave campaigners are quick to point out that leaving the EU would result in a so-called ‘Brexit Dividend’, where the Treasury would have additional funds to direct to various departments and policy areas, including health and agriculture. This view does not take account of the fact that if, for example, the UK adopts the Norwegian model then it would have to pay into the EU to trade with it from outside.

“More importantly, and despite what Justice Secretary Michael Gove said at the weekend, many are predicting that the UK economy will go into recession due to the uncertainty that would follow a vote to Leave as trading and other arrangements are thrashed out.

“This uncertainty is likely to adversely affect jobs, growth, business investment, Government spending and consumer confidence. Such a scenario would not be good for agriculture either in terms of competing with other policy areas for Treasury support or indeed in terms of UK consumer spending power. We must not forget that 80% of what Northern Ireland’s producers produce is exported, much of it to GB, a healthy economy is needed to maintain this demand.

“In addition the Minister, like all those advocating that the UK would be better off leaving the EU, is unable to say what arrangements we would have with key trading partners in the event of a Brexit.

“The DARD documents obtained by the News Letter and referred to in the article also highlight this uncertainty and flag up the potential impact of tariff barriers. Trade with the EU is a key issue, especially for Northern Ireland’s farmers and business community in general.

“As the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s recent report stated we are the region of the UK whose economy relies most on EU trade.”
Mr Nicholson added: “EU membership allows access to a single market of over 500million consumers, thousands of jobs here are dependent on this trade and on the investment of firms in Northern Ireland wishing to access the EU – in my view Brexit has too many unknowns which I fear would hit the Northern Ireland agri-food industry and economy as a whole.”