Allister: Getting out of EU would be liberating for agri industry

editorial image

Last week’s defence by Margaret Ritchie MP of the EU and false portrayal of Northern Ireland agriculture as wholly dependant on EU membership was most notable for its failure to mention any of the following hard facts:

r every penny we get from Brussels is some of our own money being recycled back to us and is but a mere fraction of the £20,000,000,000.00 the UK pays in every year;

r the EU itself has attacked local agriculture with crippling fines of €80m;

r more often than not when our industry is in crisis Brussels sits on its hands, as with its refusal to bring in intervention to deal with the catastrophic fall in the milk price;

r EU rules prohibit the UK government and Stormont from granting meaningful aid to farming because of EU “state aid” rules;

r Brussels strangles farming with hideous bureaucracy, cross-compliance nonsense and needless red tape;

r even the EU Commission admits their regulations cost business 4% of GDP;

r it is the EU which impedes several agricultural practices and imposes hugely expensive restraints, be it the Nitrates Directive, slurry spreading rules (imposing massive capital costs for storage facilities) or a myriad of other regulations imposed for regulation sake;

r EU agricultural spending is on a downward trajectory over coming years, coupled with an increasing bias towards Eastern and Southern Europe.

All of the above are part of the price our local industry pays at the hands of oppressive Brussels Diktats, something which the ‘In’ campaigners wish to continue to impose.

One would think listening to the Europhiles that farming didn’t exist before we joined the EU, whereas the reality is that since joining our farming sector has shrunk dramatically.

Shaking off the shackles of Brussels would not only be liberating for all industry, farming included, but it would restore the destiny of our country to our own hands; making our own laws and keeping and spending our own money. If government needed to support a sector then it could, free from the veto of Brussels and its “state aid” rules.

Given the centrality of agriculture to the feeding of the nation it is inconceivable that there would not be a national agricultural support scheme as required. Such would be in the interest of farmers and the consumer alike, because such support underwrites cheap and safe food. Thus consumers and producers alike would require action when appropriate from government.

But there is an even wider dimension to liberation from Brussels Diktats. For the first time in over 40 years the UK would be free to make our own trade deals with which ever countries served our interests.

Presently only Brussels can make such deals. But with Brexit the UK government would resume control, making trade arrangements in support of our agricultural and other sectors as best suited our needs and opening up markets far and wide.

As for the suggestion that we would be shut out from trading with Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, this has to be one of the biggest scare stories of the frightened ‘In’ campaign. Put very simply, because we buy more from the other EU countries than we sell them (the trade deficit was £59b in 2014 - some £169m per day), EU countries will still desperately want to trade with the UK.

They will need us more than we need them in trading terms. Thus, an advantageous trade agreement for the UK is inevitable. So, away with all the scare stories about the UK being cut off from EU trade.

Likewise, our trade with the Republic would continue under such a deal. In 2014 Northern Ireland sold £8.3b worth of goods to GB and £2.3b to the Republic and £2.4b elsewhere (only £1.3b to other EU countries). It is important to retain the sense of proportion which these figures reveal.

Far from, as Margaret Ritchie suggested, our home market being flooded by lower-quality produce, for the first time as a nation in 40 years we’d be empowered to impose our own tariffs and control our own trade, as the situation demanded it.

In her audacious attempt to raise fear over Brexit and defend the EU to the hilt, I note Ms Ritchie carefully avoided any mention of the fishing industry, once so prosperous in her constituency. Why are our once great ports of Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie now mere shadows of their former selves? Simply because the EU has destroyed our fishing industry through its absurd rules and authorised piracy of our waters.

For fishing and farming escape from the dead hand of Brussels would be liberating, not devastating.