UFU responds to Brexit proposals

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is reviewing Thursday pasts’ Brexit proposal in considerable detail and discussing it internally through its policy structures.

A spokesperson for the organisation said: “Our priority is to fully understand what it means for agriculture, the food industry and above all the future prosperity of family farm businesses in Northern Ireland.

“For now, there are more questions than answers. More clarity is needed about how this new deal would work. While the proposals appear to address concerns around regulations and tariffs, our initial assessment deemed the plans complex and bureaucratic.

“In particular, we need clarity and detail around Northern Ireland’s access to EU trade deals once the transition period ends. If we are excluded, this would have a significant impact on trade between NI and ROI. We also need more certainty around the details of NI’s unfettered access to the GB market. Our key objective from day one has been to secure trade that is as free and frictionless as possible east/west and north/south.

“A no-deal, however, remains the worst possible outcome for Northern Ireland’s family-run farm businesses and must be avoided.”

For its part, the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) wants local politicians to work together in order to overcome the challenges posed by Brexit.

Speaking at the organisation’s annual dinner, held after EU leaders endorsed the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, NIFDA Chair, and Chairman of Irwin’s Bakery, Brian Irwin urged politicians to show flexibility to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “As a nation and an economy, Northern Ireland is uniquely affected by Brexit; not least as the only part of the United Kingdom to share a land border with an EU Member State.

“We have lobbied consistently, at all levels, to make it clear that a no deal Brexit is unthinkable for the food industry. We cannot entertain it. As an industry we cannot operate with a border on the island of Ireland, nor can we absorb tariffs to export to Europe.

“We need a workable solution. The UK – EU withdrawal deal we can broadly welcome – it offers important safeguards for NI businesses to continue trading East-West and North-South. There is still a considerable amount of detail to be worked out, including on VAT, but many key areas have been addressed. We would urge flexibility from our political leaders at this time in order to progress with a deal.”

Meanwhile, Mark Crimmins, head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, has welcomed the principle of a Brexit deal for local agriculture.

He added: “Agriculture accounts for 50% of our small business lending. It is vitally important to ensure certainty for the industry moving forward.”

Crimmins was speaking at an event hosted to confirm Ulster Bank’ continuing sponsorship of Balmoral Show up to 2022

Royal Ulster Agricultural Society chief executive Alan Crowe agrees.

He commented: “A deal provides the farming sector with a degree of certainty moving forward. The dairy sector could not survive the swingeing tariffs that would be introduced in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.”

The Dairy Council of Northern Ireland has given a cautious welcome to the Brexit deal secured by Boris Johnson. The organisation’s chief executive Dr Mike Johnston added that it would take time to work through

the full detail of the agreement.

He added: “There are a number of gaps in the documents that we have seen up to this point.”