Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has met with the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt MEP to discuss the Brexit negotiation process ahead of the triggering of Article 50.
During the meeting in Brussels Mr Nicholson discussed the mutual benefits of a close post-Brexit trading relationship between the UK and EU plus highlighted the importance of cross border trade for the agri-food industries in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Commenting Mr Nicholson said: “Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom to share a land border with another EU member state. During the up-coming Brexit negotiations it is vital that issues around the UK - ROI border are properly addressed.
“The practical realities of the agri-food industry, where cross border links have developed between Northern Ireland and RoI over many years, highlight why workable solutions must be found. For example some 40% of Northern Ireland’s lambs are processed in RoI while 30% of pigs from RoI are slaughtered in Northern Ireland.
“In terms of the dairy sector, RoI dairy cooperatives own around 60% of the processing capacity in Northern Ireland with over 25% of raw milk produced in Northern Ireland being transported south of the border for processing.
“I therefore welcomed the opportunity to make these points directly to Mr Verhofstadt ahead of the formal Brexit negotiations and to present him with a copy of the Ulster Unionist Party’s Brexit document: A Vision for Northern Ireland outside the EU.
“During our meeting I also made very clear that I and the Ulster Unionist Party do not wish to see any kind of internal border develop between Northern Ireland and the ports and airports of Great Britain as this would make us second class citizens in our own country.
“Increasingly I can see that Brussels is aware that issues surrounding Northern Ireland and the border will be amongst the hardest to tackle in these negotiations. I believe reasonable, innovative solutions can be found – this will require cool heads and hard work as the UK’s future relationship with the EU is negotiated.
“The collapse of the Assembly and lack of a substantive post-Brexit plan from the DUP/Sinn Fein Executive unfortunately means that at this crucial juncture in our history Northern Ireland is disadvantaged by not having a voice in Brexit discussions. I will continue to use my platform as a MEP to make sure Northern Ireland’s voice is heard by key players throughout the negotiations.”