On the same week that the UK’s Agriculture Bill was introduced at Westminster, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann MLA has met with NatureMattersNI - a coalition of environmental organisations in Northern Ireland – to discuss how the environment and local farming sector can both best be supported after Brexit.
Mr Swann said he was more than happy to take up the invitation to meet with NatureMattersNI, describing them as a group who are ‘obviously passionate’ about securing the best future for our environment post Brexit.
The make-up of the group includes large membership organisations such as the National Trust and the RSPB, so it’s important that they were given a platform to convey their concerns.
He explained: “One of their key objectives is a sustainable agriculture and land–use policy that supports our farmers and is good for nature.
“That’s something I can fully agree with as one simply can’t succeed without the other.
“It was fitting that the meeting took place on the same week that DEFRA revealed their first new food policy since 1947.
“Whilst much anticipation surrounded the Agriculture Bill, unfortunately its publication has left many people and sectors of the British agri-food industry feeling bitterly disappointed.
“Whilst there were some positive announcements for the farmers in England and Wales, such as the seven-year transition period, on the whole the 57 page document was high on rhetoric and scant on substantive detail.
“After a recent briefing with NIO and DEFRA officials the Ulster Unionist Party were concerned that the build-up to the Bill was somewhat different to what we were told would be in it. Unsurprisingly therefore it’s publication has received a fairly muted response, with even some saying it was a strategic missed opportunity for the Government.
“Whilst I fully accept that rewarding farmers for good environmental practices makes sense, ultimately they need much more than just reassurance and words of comfort if they are to feed their families. Detail is important, especially as the end of the transition period – if we even have one – is little more than two years away.
“The Agriculture Bill should have been the opportunity for the UK Government to lay out exactly how it was going to ensure the sustainability and resilience of the agricultural industry. Unfortunately it doesn’t do that.
“What makes the situation even worse is that whilst England is at least moving forward with an albeit vague plan, here in Northern Ireland we have no plan at all. It’s ridiculous and all because we have some political parties refusing to set aside their pre-conditions, and a Secretary of State who was prepared for far too long to allow the drift at Stormont to continue.”