Following a damning assessment by the Northern Ireland Economy Department, Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has again warned that a no-deal Brexit would be a total disaster for the local agri-food sector.
Robin Swann said:“I’ve always believed that no-deal Brexit would be the worst possible outcome for both the EU and the UK.
“It has been over three years from the 2016 referendum and there is more than enough evidence now that a no-deal Brexit could lead to disastrous economic repercussions for the local agri-food industry.
“My fears were further reinforced this week by the grim assessment from the Northern Ireland Civil Service as it reported back on its investigation into the likely implications of no deal outcome.
“The clear and independent assessment is that crashing out of the EU would have immediate and severe consequences for both the competitiveness of the Province in the all-island economy, as well as threatening Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.
“It reiterated many of the statistics already known - not least the fact that the Republic is an essential export market for the local food sector. In 2016 food and drink sales alone totalled over £645m, accounting for an enormous 58% of total exports that year.
“Similarly for the farming sector, exports of live animals to the Republic totalled £61m in 2018, with exports of clean sheep for slaughter alone totalling £32.7m. When I checked the latest position just last week I saw that local farms have been exporting approximately 50% of all the Northern Ireland lambs produced so far this year to the Republic for processing. Of course over a third of all milk produced on NI farms is also sent South for processing.
“The reality is that whilst the GB food market is also crucial to local farms, we simply can’t afford to be cut off from the Republic. Yet under a no deal Brexit a major share of our existing export market – including the Republic - would be blocked off due to punitive tariffs. Our farmers would then also be at the risk of the UK Government making disastrous decisions such as opening the floodgates to cheap, sub-standard food imports. In either scenario local producers are facing a dangerous period ahead.
“Whilst farmers right across the UK are anxiously watching to see what will happen come the 31st October, the reality remains that unless the EU backs down and stops treating the UK as if it is punishing us for having the audacity to want to leave, and unless the Tory Party can actually get a grip of itself and appoint a leader and stop the internal fighting, once again it appears that we are almost certainly heading for a no-deal Brexit.
“That would be a catastrophic outcome for the local farming industry.”