SDLP Agriculture Spokesperson Patsy McGlone MLA has proposed a motion during Opposition Day in the Assembly calling on the Executive to outline how they intend to defend the agri-food sector from the damaging effect of a potential withdrawal from the European Union.
The motion was passed with a majority of MLAs supporting it in the Assembly.
Mr McGlone said: “We know that the Joint First Ministers are aware of the risk Brexit poses to our agri–food sector. They included it in their much boasted but embarrassingly neglected “Dear Theresa” letter. Yet we have seen no evidence that they are planning for the future.
““While they twiddle their thumbs, noises from the British Government has heaped anxiety on our farmers and agri-food workers. The British Agriculture Minister has said farmers will have to “move away from the notion of subsidies”, an absurd ask when dairy and lamb farmers in particular cannot break even with their product.
“The question must be asked, what is the Executive doing besides waiting on a lead from London? Statements like those from George Eustice suggests that London is preparing to hang our farmers and agri-sector workers out to dry.
“We only need to look at the figures; over 70% of all European funding to Northern Ireland falls under the Common Agricultural Policy and other rural EU funds. That amounts to approximately £350 million each year, 87% of the annual income for farmers. Our farmers currently receive 10% of all Agriculture payments coming to the UK from the EU. If a replacement fund is allocated like other public funds via Barnett Formula, we can expect that amount to fall to around 3%. An unmitigated Brexit would be devastating for one of our biggest sectors.
“The DUP and Sinn Féin have a responsibility to alleviate the concerns of those in the agricultural sector who are fearful for their livelihoods. The Executive must set out their demands for negotiations with the British Government. They must fight for unhindered access to the single market and the free movement of labour, goods and services. The agricultural sector needs to know what the Executive’s demands are or if they have any demands at all.”