‘Executive must provide certainty on future funding’

Harold McKee
Harold McKee

Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Harold McKee has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to start preparing for a new agricultural support scheme after CAP funding was guaranteed only until 2020.

The UUP MLA for South Down, said: “The landmark decision of the United Kingdom in June to vote to leave the European Union must now be followed up with certainty for future support for the agriculture sector, one of Northern Ireland’s most important economic industries.

“Whilst I welcome the recent commitment from the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond that CAP payments would be guaranteed until 2020, the local Executive must now quickly begin work with the national Government on a new alternative scheme in order to ensure a policy and financial vacuum post-2020 is avoided.

“It is no secret that farmers are major beneficiaries from EU subsidies, however the decision to leave the European Union does not mean that support for our local farmers has to end. In fact, the new support mechanism only needs to move from a European to national level. Indeed, the current DAERA Minister had stated before the referendum that subsidies would continue. I would now call on her to give a guarantee that the support will be at the same level as present.

“Agriculture in the UK will shortly be facing a seminal moment. Decisions taken over the next four years will not only affect farmers in the years immediately after 2020 but for entire generations.

“For example, the UK Government is going to try to secure access to new non-EU markets for exports, particularly in services. This could be accompanied with the UK having to open its agricultural imports from outside the EU. If that were to happen unconstrained it could have a devastating impact on the local sector. However not all the changes need to be precarious, in fact Brexit could also be accompanied with benefits for farmers such as a major clear-out of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape.

“It is essential that we use this intervening period to design a scheme which supports our farmers but also helps the industry continue to move forward as it faces new challenges and opportunities.”