Hundreds of farmers are expected to descend upon Cookstown on Tuesday June 7th for a UFU-hosted meeting on Brexit.
“We have asked both the ‘Vote Leave’ and the ‘In Campaign’ to field one speaker each for the evening in question,” confirmed Union chief executive Wesley Aston.
“This will be an open meeting for all farmers and those with an interest in rural affairs. We have briefed both official groupings to provide a speaker with an in depth knowledge of agri food and the relevance of the two industries for Northern Ireland.”
Farming Life has been informed that the Vote Leave speaker may well be former DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson. A recent visitor to Northern Ireland, he is on record as saying that the UK would be better off to the tune of £9.8 billion annually, should it vote to come out of the EU. Paterson also believes that the family farm structure underpinning local agriculture can flourish within such an environment.
He is also of the view that a Brexit will not put in jeopardy any of the current trade links between the farming and food industries on both sides of the Irish border.
The Cookstown meeting will be chaired by well-known agri commentator Richard Wright.
“The event will provide farmers with an opportunity to hear both sides of the Brexit argument, specifically where agriculture and food are concerned,” he said.
“It’s important that those in attendance have as much opportunity to put the questions they need answered on this crucially important issue. I will be acting in a totally independent capacity throughout the evening.”
Wright said that he had not made up his mind yet on whether or not to call for a show of hands at the end of the meeting.
“If the feeling in the room is that such a vote would be helpful, then I will be more than happy to oblige.”
This week saw the current DEFRA Minister Liz Truss visit Balmoral Show. She said that food and drink exports from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, worth £850m annually, would face an uncertain future if the UK voted to leave the European Union.
She added:“Family-run farms and innovative food and drink producers across Northern Ireland enjoy huge success in the EU, with over £1bn of produce exported there in 2015.
“Northern Ireland particularly benefits from easy, hassle-free trade with the Republic of Ireland—a vital source of income for farmers and food producers.
“If we were to leave the EU, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not be able to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland’s farmers would have no certainty on cross trade arrangements.
“Leaving the EU is a leap in the dark and a risk not worth taking, with no guarantees that such a good deal could be struck outside the EU. Northern Ireland’s world-class farmers and food producers are stronger, safer and better off in a reformed European Union.”
The proposed venue for the Union meeting on June 7th is the Glenavon Hotel.
“It’s the only facility in the mid-Ulster area that can cope with the numbers we are expecting to attend the event,” confirmed Wesley Aston.