We need an agreement ASAP

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The ongoing impasse at Stormont is the worst possible news for agriculture.

While our politicians procrastinate, the farming and food sectors remain unrepresented at a time when the Brexit negotiations continue to gather pace.

It’s not good enough for MLAs to think that they can let matters drift until September and then take up the Brexit cudgels. By that stage, they will only be playing catch up when, in reality, they should have real policies formulated and a strategy in place that will ensure that the best Brexit deal is secured for all the farming sectors.

Brexit will either be the biggest opportunity grasped by local agriculture, or the largest catastrophe ever to befall the industry. To ensure that the latter is not the case will require real political acumen on the part of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives. Leaving matters in the hands of civil servants cannot be contemplated.

One could also argue that the need for local political input into the Westminster machine has never been greater, where farming and food are concerned. The confidence and supply agreement struck between the DUP and the Tories has angered the Scots and the Welsh. So Northern Ireland cannot expect any support from either of these quarters in the run-up to the final Brexit deal. So, it really will be a case of the MLA team at Stormont carrying the fight to London in the strongest possible terms.

Farming and food combined represents the single largest sector within the local economy. Too many jobs are at risk, not to take its future prospects seriously. I am aware that staff within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ Brexit Group are already doing tremendous work in assessing the various options that will kick into play for agriculture in Northern Ireland, once the UK says ‘bye-bye’ to Europe.

But at some stage in the very near future, elected politicians must step-in, take over the reins of this process and make real decisions on farmers’ behalf. Unfortunately, if this doesn’t happen soon, the prospects of securing a Brexit deal that makes sense will start to fall away dramatically.