The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is urging farms across Northern Ireland to support a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming EU referendum.
He made the call during a weekend visit to the Ahoghill dairy farm of the Johnston family.
Cameron hinted strongly that agriculture had much to gain from the EU reform package thrashed out in Brussels a fortnight ago.
“Staying in the EU gives our farmers direct and free access to a market made up of five million consumers,” he said.
“It also guarantees farming in Northern Ireland continuing access to all of the CAP support measures, which the industry currently avails of. In contrast, those supporting the principle of the UK leaving the EU can offer no guarantees whatsoever. And this includes the state of the trading relationships that will exist between the UK and Europe, should Britain vote to leave Europe.”
The Prime Minister said that he believed passionately in the bona fides of the deal which he struck with the other 27 EU heads of state. He also disagreed strongly with the view expressed by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers that agriculture could receive higher levels of support, should a Brexit become reality.
“Yes, the UK government recognises the value of farming to the economy as a whole. But if Britain votes to leave the EU, all I can confirm is that the current EU support measures for agriculture will remain in place for two more years,” he said.
“But I cannot guarantee that the UK government will continue to support farming to such an extent beyond this date. And no one can.
“In the event of an economic downturn, following a UK exit from Europe, the money may not be available to support farming on a par with that which is currently the case.”
The Prime Minister said that continuing membership of the EU would help deliver real safety, prosperity and strength for the United Kingdom as a whole. Specifically, where agriculture is concerned, he saw tremendous merit in the EU negotiating trade deals with the likes of India and China.
While acknowledging that Northern Ireland’s milk sector is under tremendous pressure at the present time, he expressed the view that agriculture, as a whole, can look forward to a bright future.
“Dairy farmers are in business for the long term. International demand for food is set to grow significantly,” he said.
“UK trade missions are currently seeking out new market opportunities for our farming and food sectors, and I am confident that farmers in Northern Ireland will play their part in helping to feed the world.”
Cameron made it clear that those supporting a Brexit must come out and clearly articulate their arguments. But, as far as he was concerned, coming out of Europe was “a step in the dark.”