The Ulster Farmers’ Union says that while it is helpful that the government has put on paper its plans for both future customs arrangements and addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit, it remains concerned that these will not satisfy the union’s priorities for the agriculture and food industries.
UFU president Barclay Bell said it was important to remember that these were what the government hoped to achieve, and that there was a big difference between that and what might prove acceptable in Brussels and to the EU-27 member states.
“From the outset we have been very clear that our priorities were for both a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that would not hinder the industry, and also a plan to ensure we can still sell food into the EU market,” said Mr Bell.
“While this is obviously the UK government’s initial position, for when negotiations with the EU on future arrangements commence, early reaction from Europe has suggested that this will not be acceptable to other EU member states.
“The government proposal for a transitional period to help manage any change is something that we have been pressing for, but they have also committed to leaving the customs union which is the basis for countries outside accessing the EU market and then negotiating something very similar going forward. We cannot take it for granted that others will agree,” added Mr Bell.
The UFU president said these are crucial issues for the Northern Ireland economy, with food and farming the biggest manufacturing sector employer.
“Long before the EU existed farming operated and traded on an all-island basis. That has become even more the case, thanks to cross border ownership of many key businesses. Limiting their flexibility to trade would inevitably have a negative impact on our industry at every level,” said Mr Bell.
“For that reason we will be watching carefully, and engaging with local and national politicians, as discussions between the UK and Brussels begin over these issues that are so crucial to the future of our industry.
“Thousands of jobs across Northern Ireland depend on a farming and food industry well placed to trade within the island of Ireland, the EU and with the rest of the world,” added Mr Bell.