Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has expressed concerns over the effects an inadequate Brexit deal may have on the UK agricultural industry, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Mr Nicholson called on the Government to prioritise close trade with the European Union and the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, as Prime Minister Theresa May formally begins the process of entering into negotiations on exiting the EU.
He said: “Last June, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. If democracy is to mean anything, that vote has to be accepted, respected and implemented. Now the Government is beginning the formal process for Brexit negotiations, with Mrs May triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
“This is, of course, only the end of the beginning, and it is vital that we engage as much as possible both with Westminster and Brussels in ensuring that we get the best deal possible. I firmly believe that a bad deal for either side would ultimately be a bad deal for both sides.
“If we end up with “no deal” (i.e. trading with the EU under WTO rules), that would be the worst possible outcome for all sides. Trading on WTO rules would mean significant tariff and non tariff barriers to trade. For our agri-food and manufacturing sectors, this could be catastrophic.
“As it stands, the default tariffs of agricultural products into the EU are huge. For instance, WTO tariffs on UK exports would equate to 47 per cent on milk, 40 per cent on cheese and 40 per cent on lamb. Crucially also the impact of non-tariff barriers including regulation, rules of origin or quotas can actually be more restrictive for trade than tariffs themselves. Given that a large chunk of our local produce is exported, and the cross-border nature of supply chains, it is hard to see how the sector locally could survive without significant additional support.”