Leaked report does nothing to allay UFU’s ‘no-deal’ Brexit fears

Ivor Ferguson said the UFU has big concerns over the government's proposed tariff regime in a no-deal Brexit
Ivor Ferguson said the UFU has big concerns over the government's proposed tariff regime in a no-deal Brexit

Predictions from a sensitive government report about the full impact of a no-deal Brexit have done nothing to allay Ulster Farmers’ Union fears that such an outcome would be “a disaster” for NI farming.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson was speaking after government Brexit planning documents were leaked to the Sunday Times.

The paper reported that the UK faces shortages of fuel, food and medicine, a three-month meltdown at its ports, a hard border with Ireland and rising costs in social care in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The documents were compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the code name Operation Yellowhammer and represent a most likely outcome, the paper reported.

However, the government says it detailed a worst case scenario and was leaked by a former minister.

Mr Ferguson noted that the UFU had already warned that “a no deal would a disaster for us in NI and for the future of our farming families”.

The key problem remains the government’s proposed tariff regime under a no-deal Brexit, he said.

“When the proposed new tariff regime came out a few months ago we realised that our hopes were dashed because they are a lot lower than the current EU tariff.

“They are so low that it will encourage businesses from all around the world to send product into GB, which would leave it very competitive and would lower our prices and would have big implications for the future of families’ farms in NI.”

He added: “The government’s aim is to make sure the price of food doesn’t rise for consumers. We can understand that but we would like to see them making more use of the tariff rate quotas.”

This would essentially continue EU tariff rates for all normal level of food imports, but attract higher tariff levels for any imports above that level.

“That is the only way to protect UK farmers,” he said. All farming unions across the UK agree on the proposal, which he briefed Cabinet Minister Michael Gove on personally in recent weeks, he said.

The DUP failed to offer any comment on the UFU comments.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the leak has came at a time when the new prime minister is planning to speak to EU leaders. “Attempts to undermine these talks with EU negotiators are not in the national interest,” she said.

“It is important that we use the remaining time to work on getting a deal, with the best possible outcome for the UK. There is still time for a deal but requires an attitude change in Dublin and Brussels.”

She added: “The backstop and any creation of an Irish Sea border would undermine the Union and indeed it will be catastrophic for our economy.”

The DUP wants a deal that respects the referendum result and maintains the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK, she added.