Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann has said the publication of a new UK report revealing a possible hit to farm incomes after Brexit illustrates the absolute necessity for the current EU negotiations to succeed.
Robin Swann said: “This week’s report from the UK’s Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board warned that in the worst case scenario farm incomes could potentially be cut in half. It has identified this as a possible outcome through a combination of cheaper food imports, a reduction in subsidies and more expensive labour.
“I don’t believe this will happen, but it’s important to remain conscious of what is really at stake if the current Brexit negotiations did fail.
“The formal negotiations with the EU started five months ago but it appears they are still no further on at all. On Thursday the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said progress had still not been made and that the discussions had got caught up in deadlock.
“It is hugely worrying that the specific negotiations over a future trade deal have not even started yet, despite there only being a year and a half left before the UK leaves the EU.
“Agriculture potentially has the most to lose from a bungled Brexit deal and inadequate new trade arrangements. A report from the House of Lords in July said – ‘the greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards than the UK.’
“Thankfully the UK Government has guaranteed financial support for farmers up until 2022 so there will be sufficient time to create a new agri-support model to replace the current CAP. I also believe the UK’s high animal welfare standards will be one of its strongest selling points as it seeks out new international markets.
“What the future trade and policy framework will look like after Brexit is now the most pressing issue for the agri-food sector over the next 18 months. It is my expectation however that outside of the EU and freed from the shackles of EU regulations and restrictions, our exports will continue to grow.
“The report on farm incomes simply serves to focus minds on just what would happen if the negotiations did fail – that simply can’t be allowed to happen.”