Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson, Robin Swann MLA, has said that he believes the prospect of a hard Brexit has increased dramatically following this week’s political events at Westminster.
The North Antrim MLA has warned that aside from a no deal Brexit being the worst imaginable outcome for consumers, including leading to immediate trade obstacles for local producers as well as the potential for shortages of some key food products, local veterinary services would also face almost immediate and insurmountable challenges.
Mr Swann said: “This week was certainly not the finest in British democracy. In 2016 the UK took a decision to leave the European Union and some people – including myself – had still held out hope however that the Prime Minister could have defied all the odds and been able to produce a viable plan. But that has not been the case.
“The Prime Minister has a produced a flawed deal, barely got it through the Cabinet and now almost certainly will fail to get it through Westminster. As a result, the prospect of a hard Brexit has grown considerably and of course among all the sectors in all the regions – none may be hit so forcefully as agriculture in Northern Ireland.
“On Wednesday – only hours before the latest plan was announced – the British Veterinary Association issued a stark warning that a no deal Brexit would ‘exacerbate current shortages in the veterinary profession and create significant risks for trade, animal health and welfare, and food safety’.
“Such warnings simply cannot go unheeded. Many veterinary practices right across Northern Ireland were already facing a profound recruitment disaster, with some repeatedly advertising vacant posts only for not a single application to be received.
“The industry has for some time been facing a perfect storm of an ageing workforce nearing retirement, greater numbers of younger female vets moving to part-time and less unsociable working hours and a large proportion of the vets who had come here from the European continent returning back to their home member states. Now a no deal Brexit will see their amount of work skyrocket overnight, especially with regards to export certification, and make it even more difficult for the industry to attract the EU nationals that it so desperately needs to bolster the workforce.”
He added: “At this late stage – little more than four months until Brexit - there is little the Government can realistically do now to avert the imminent crisis. All measures that can be taken should be taken – including the Government placing vets on the shortage occupation list in an urgent attempt to attract more applicants to the industry.”