Nicholson: producers need more certainty

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Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that with a year to go to Brexit producers and all aspects of the Northern Ireland agri-food industry need greater certainty in relation to farm support outside the EU.

The MEP called on Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove to provide more specific information to allow businesses to plan for the future.

Commenting, Mr Nicholson said: “We are now a little over a year from the UK’s exit from the European Union and I have concerns about the lack of firm information from the UK Government as to how they intend to support UK agriculture post-Brexit.

“Yes, we have had a number of speeches from Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove but these have been long on rhetoric and short on meaningful detail.

“The Defra Secretary wants to end direct payments and introduce a new system of ‘public money for public goods’. Mr Gove must however recognise that the industry cannot switch overnight to a new system – producers must have sufficient time to adjust to any changes during a transition period. Defra is currently consulting on replacing direct payments in England but the Northern Ireland industry needs some certainty about what the future holds, including any transition arrangements, so that businesses can plan and make important investment decisions.

“On the future level of support, the UK Government has pledged to maintain the “same cash total funding” for agriculture until the end of 2022 – however, how will the money be shared out as it is transferred to the devolved administrations from HM Treasury post-Brexit?

“I note that the Welsh Government is campaigning to ensure that the allocation of farm support continues to be treated differently from other policy areas, and isn’t subject to the Barnett formula, once the UK leaves the EU. This is an issue of concern locally - Mr Gove must provide assurances that post-Brexit Northern Ireland will receive at least our historical share of the UK’s agricultural funding and crucially that the funds will be ring-fenced.

“In recent months the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments have been wrangling over the return of EU powers to the devolved administrations once the UK leaves the EU, many of the policy areas covered by these talks relate to agriculture and the environment. This is another area where clarity is needed and where once again Northern Ireland is at a disadvantage because of the lack of a functioning Executive.”

He concluded: “Agriculture is the sector that will be most affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. With Brexit little over one year away there are still too many unanswered questions remaining for agri-businesses, especially locally given the cross-border nature of supply chains.

“I have written to the Defra Secretary to highlight the urgent need for greater certainty on farm business support and the broader policy framework post-Brexit for Northern Ireland agri-food.”