Farming groups call for ‘urgent progress’

The European flag and the Union Flag flying  outside Parliament in London, as police in the area have been "briefed to intervene appropriately" if the law is broken after Tory MP Anna Soubry accused them of ignoring abuse hurled at politicians and journalists. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday January 9, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
The European flag and the Union Flag flying outside Parliament in London, as police in the area have been "briefed to intervene appropriately" if the law is broken after Tory MP Anna Soubry accused them of ignoring abuse hurled at politicians and journalists. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday January 9, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said it is essential that urgent progress is made by MPs in Westminster to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The comments were made after the House of Commons voted against the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday night.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ivor Ferguson said: “The defeat of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement did not come as a surprise given the public position of many MPs across all parties over the last few weeks. However, the scale of the defeat has sent a clear signal.

“Regardless of this very significant development, our position remains – a no deal Brexit must be avoided. The UFU respects the referendum result and that the UK will leave the EU, however, leaving with no deal would have catastrophic consequences for family farm businesses in Northern Ireland.

“It means high tariffs on our exports creating an effective trade embargo on export of animals and animal based products, and the possibility of lower standard imports flooding the UK market, crippling the industry and rendering our farmers uncompetitive.

“The 29th March is fast approaching and no deal is the default outcome. It is absolutely essential that urgent progress is made to avoid this and secure an orderly exit from the EU. We expect lots of activity in the next few days and securing cross party parliamentary consensus on an alternative plan now appears to be a possible way forward. Indications are that the majority of MPs want to avoid a no deal scenario. This is their opportunity to deliver,” Mr Ferguson added.

Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland’s (LMC) Chief Executive, Ian Stevenson said that although Theresa May’s withdrawal terms were rejected by Parliament and the uncertainty for industry continues, they remain hopeful that UK and EU politicians can reach an agreement on the way forward.

He added: “As outlined in LMC’s WTO report published last year, a ‘no-deal’ scenario would be a devastating blow to the Northern Ireland red meat industry.

“Uncertainty is the most challenging aspect of the Brexit process for businesses. Last night’s developments have done little to ease this uncertainty. Clarity is required urgently on the future EU/UK relationship allowing businesses to make informed decisions about their future investment and development plans.

“It’s a critical time for the Northern Ireland red meat industry and it’s more vital than ever that the local red meat industry gets fair and equitable access to the widest range of markets around the world.”

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said that now that the House of Commons has made its position clear on the Withdrawal Agreement, Brussels’ reaction will be extremely important.

He added: “The backstop is clearly the problem, we have known this for months and we now have the opportunity to fix it.

“If we can fix the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular the backstop, we avoid the ‘no deal’ outcome which would have serious consequences for both the United Kingdom and the European Union.

“Brussels has the room and ability to manoeuvre. It is time for the EU to reflect on this vote, show maturity, and find a better agreement that can be accepted by a majority in the House of Commons and ensure we leave the European Union with a good deal.”