Call for NI‘s share of European agri payments to be ring fenced

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Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said he has many concerns and that clarity is still required from Michael Gove after his recent speech to the Oxford Farmers Conference which set out his proposals for Agriculture in the UK, and indeed Northern Ireland, post-Brexit.

Commenting after the DEFRA Secretary’s speech Mr Nicholson said he was glad to see the DEFRA Secretary is at least beginning to put his proposals down on paper and out for consultation.

Mr Nicholson continued: “It is positive to see a commitment up until 2024 for direct payments, albeit for England. This now sets a level and needs to be replicated for Northern Ireland. A Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, in a functioning Executive is now more important than ever, to ensure this commitment is followed through to Northern Ireland.

“Mr Gove’s proposal to move away to a ‘public money for public goods’ will prove to be a contentions move, especially for farmers in Northern Ireland. While this proposal may work for the large arable farms in England, it may not be best suited for the Northern Ireland family farm structure. Careful consideration will need to be given to a Northern Ireland agri policy, where different circumstances exist, and a more localised approach will be required. But to label the current system of farming in the UK as inefficient, highlights a gross misunderstanding on behalf of the DEFRA Secretary, especially in relation to the industry in Northern Ireland.

“What concerns me most about these recent proposals from Michael Gove is the lack of clarity. For example, how the agri-industry will be impacted with potential new trade deals, including a Trade Deal with the EU. How will the UK Agri-Sector deal with potential cheaper produce flooding the UK market, will be a question on the lips of many farmers.”

Mr Nicholson continued: “Mr Gove has failed to address in full detail how food standards and security, and produce traceability will be impacted post Brexit. Currently the UK, and in particular Northern Ireland have some of the highest standards of food in the world, with the strongest levels of traceability, and that is certainly one issue which needs to be addressed.

“I will wait to see the fine print on this, and will study it in detail. But it must be recognised that the United Kingdom is entering a new post-CAP era where choices will have to be made and tremendous challenges overcome.

“Northern Ireland has potentially much to lose in a botched post Brexit agri deal. Currently, Northern Ireland receives the highest amount of money per hectare, compared to the rest of the UK, and therefore an immediate assurance is required that Northern Ireland’s current subsidies from the EU are ring-fenced and not unfairly reallocated.

“What Mr Gove has failed to address is more telling than what he actually has said.”