The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the decision to take the UK out of the EU Single Market adds a further twist to the Brexit debate – but it says it believes arrangements will emerge that will allow trade with the EU 27 to continue.
It says however that the decision will put more pressure on politicians to find a practical answer to cross border trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“The clarity from the Prime Minister on the single market is welcome, and it means we will be swapping being in the European market of right for being there through negotiation,” said UFU president Barclay Bell.
“We do still have legitimate and important concerns, especially in relation to how long it will take for a trade deal to be completed. A tariff war will serve no-one well. EU member states need to trade with the UK, and we are optimistic that they will recognise that in the negotiations. We want to sell food into France and Germany – but they want to sell cars to us, while Ireland needs to maintain trade with the UK for food, which is its biggest export earner. Those are the realities of this debate. However, if a comprehensive trade deal cannot be reached quickly, it will be crucial that arrangements are made for a phased transition to allow farm businesses to adapt,” he said.
Mr Bell admitted that while those political negotiations continue they would create further uncertainty about what Brexit would bring. However he said that after over 40 years of membership of the EU it was inevitable that leaving it would create uncertainty.
“We have to ensure politicians here and in London fully understand what is at stake – and we need to lobby hard for the outcome we want. We will be doing that, along with the other UK farm unions – but this is a marathon not a sprint, and farmers need to be aware that uncertainty will be around for a considerable time,” he said.
The UFU president said the decision to leave the Single Market underlined the concerns about cross border trading and access to labour it raised with a House of Commons committee last week.
“After Brexit, regardless of the deal struck on trade, the movement of products and access to labour between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be different. That will bring complications we do not have now. Whatever outcome the Assembly elections deliver it is vital that local politicians get involved in this debate with London to ensure we can maintain free movement of goods across the border and access to labour, with minimal red tape,” said Mr Bell.