Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann has met with Sue Pritchard, the Director of a major new UK-wide inquiry examining how the UK can achieve a secure food and farming system for the UK post-Brexit.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Swann said that while he was confident that Northern Ireland’s farmers will see benefits from the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, the reality remains that local agriculture potentially has the most to lose from a bungled Brexit deal.
“To date the local preparations for Brexit remain virtually non-existent and the ongoing absence of an Executive is only further compounding the frustration and sense of isolation being felt locally,” Mr Swann said.
“It is hugely worrying that the specific negotiations over a future trade deal have not even started yet, despite there only being less than a year and a half left before the UK leaves the EU. This uncertainty is the single biggest strategic issue facing our local agri-food sector.
“This week I had the pleasure of welcoming Sue Pritchard to Parliament Buildings. She is heading up the UK’s RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission which has been established to help make proposals for the future of farming and rural communities in a post-Brexit world. The Commission is being Chaired by Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Barclays Bank.
“Across the UK there is a dearth of detailed policy proposals for agriculture post-Brexit and therefore the Commission will likely play an important role in feeding into and shaping the UK’s future policy framework.
“In our meeting I was pleased to hear how the Commission hoped to build upon the wealth of experience and knowledge across Northern Ireland in relation to food, farming and the countryside. I was pleased to learn that Sue already has plans to engage directly with farmers, producers and industry leaders.
“I emphasised some of the particular issues that the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland would face. Access to labour is a crucial issue for some key local industries and I also encouraged the Commission to pay particular emphasis on the fact that shortly Northern Ireland will have the only land border between the UK and the European Union,” he said.
Mr Swann added: “Whilst thankfully the UK Government has guaranteed financial support for farmers up until 2022, I also emphasised that this intervening period must be used to develop a lasting agri-support model to replace the current EU payments.”