DUP MEP Diane Dodds has given her response to remarks by the DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove at the recent Oxford Farming Conference.
I always like to take an interest in the Oxford Farming Conference for a number of reasons, not least because it gives an indication of where farming’s future lies, taking account of its opportunities and challenges.
Very often the debates seem far removed from the issues that affect local farmers here in Northern Ireland but it does give a platform for key policy makers throughout the UK to share their views.
The future was a key part of Michael Gove’s vision, much of his speech was aspirational and lacked detail on what his department was planning for the coming weeks and months.
I was interested in his take on food security and the innovative approach adopted towards the issue. We in the DUP support the need for food security by supporting productive agriculture and recognise the importance of protecting the environment. I would urge the Government to do more to ensure future policies reflect these aims, particularly when negotiating future trade deals. However, I do welcome Mr Gove’s commitment to current UK standards, namely that “we must not barter them away in pursuit of a necessarily short-term trade-off”.
The future of agriculture in the eyes of Mr Gove needs to debate the need for harnessing scientific and technical innovation, posing a challenge to industry to seize the opportunities of the fourth agriculture revolution. I agree that is something we should debate and as an industry decide what to embrace going forward. The reality, as acknowledged by the Secretary of State, is that the EU has stifled much innovation and lacked the resolve to have a science-based approach to a lot of this technology.
Mr Gove in his speech reiterates that he argued for Britain to leave the EU and in doing so we would rejuvenate our democracy, escape the bureaucratic straitjacket of the CAP, remove the inefficient area based payments and have access to the technologies the EU is turning its back on. He also goes on to say that the Prime Minister’s deal if accepted over time will allow divergence from EU regulation. In attempting to sell the Prime Minister’s deal to those attending the Oxford conference - mainly an audience from Great Britain - the fact is that the Secretary of State neglected to recognise that these same opportunities would not exist in Northern Ireland under the backstop. Under the proposed arrangement, which would likely end up the de facto position for our future relationship with the rest of the UK and EU given the absence of an effective exit mechanism, we would not avail of the majority of these benefits. We would be governed by EU rules but have no democratic say in those rules - a straight jacket from which even Houdini could not escape.
If this isn’t bad enough, Mr Gove’s speech asserts that the UK will likely diverge from the EU. This reaffirms the inherent dangers for Northern Ireland of the backstop. Divergence between the EU and UK means divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Northern Ireland agri-food products would be treated differently in the Great Britain marketplace and the results would not stop on day one but continue to evolve as time passes. Therefore in voting for this deal we would be acquiescing to the very real risk that Northern Ireland remains EU rule takers, subject to ongoing regulatory differences and being less competitive in our largest market. Ultimately if Michael Gove and the UK Government feel that farmers in the rest of the UK should avail of the benefits of leaving the EU we must too.