DEFRA secretary must address concerns

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Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that the DEFRA Secretary, Michael Gove MP, must address the issues identified in the recent NAO report on his department’s preparedness for Brexit as a matter of urgency.

Commenting Mr Nicholson said: “The recent National Audit Office (NAO) audit clearly emphasises the fact that DEFRA is one of the government departments most affected by Brexit – a fact that Government should have been fully aware of.

“The audit recognises that some progress has been made by DEFRA in preparing for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, this includes for example securing approval for £320million of spending in 2018-19 from HM Treasury. The NAO report does however question whether DEFRA is adequately prepared for the possibility of a no-deal scenario.

“Whilst agriculture is devolved DEFRA still leads for the UK as a whole when it comes to exporting animals and animal products. In terms of exporting to third countries DEFRA vets and officials lead on the negotiation of export health certificates, supported by DAERA and industry. In relation to this aspect of the department’s work the NAO report states that DEFRA will need to negotiate agreements with 154 countries to continue exporting post-Brexit – crucially however the audit suggests that not all of these agreements will be in place when the UK exits the EU in March 2019.”

Mr Nicholson concluded: “DEFRA has said that in the period between the audit being conducted and the report being published further work has been carried out to prepare for Brexit, including in relation to recruiting vets which was a key issue of concern highlighted by the NAO.

“It is however vital that all the areas of concern identified by the NAO in relation to DEFRA’s Brexit preparedness are fully addressed as a matter of urgency.”