Today (Saturday) sees the EU-27 heads of state meet to agree their overarching Brexit negotiating position.
And all the talk is of the Irish government getting a commitment from Brussels that its interests will be centre stage when it comes to getting a final deal over the line.
So can we rely on Dublin to deliver a final arrangement that meets the bespoke requirements of Northern Ireland? The short answer to that question is ‘absolutely not’. There’s little doubt that the Irish government wants a Brexit arrangement that will meet the needs of both Belfast and Dublin. But one salutary fact remains in the way of making such an aspiration become reality. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom: the Republic is not.
Given all of the different facets to the upcoming negotiations, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Northern Ireland needs a Brexit deal that meets our own unique set of circumstances. In a world where common sense prevailed, elected Stormont Executive ministers should be making the pitch on behalf the farming and food sectors. However, in light of the latest predictions, it could be the autumn before any new political arrangement at Stormont is worked out. So, in effect, our politicians may well have sidelined themselves from the entire Brexit process.
By the autumn of this year, the Brexit negotiating train will have left the station on its way to delivering some form of final settlement. Given these circumstances, it is the role of the Ulster Farmers’ Union to step in now, pick up the cudgels and fight the case for farming and food in Northern Ireland.
Issues such as future cross-border trade arrangements, the level of direct support made available to active producers post 2020 and the carve up of the UK’s future agriculture budget will have a unique and fundamental resonance here in Northern Ireland.
The time for thinking is over. Local farmers want to know how they can best survive in a post-Brexit world. And it’s the job of the Union to start coming up with some real answers – right now!