Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MEP Diane Dodds has urged the Prime Minister Theresa May to come back to Parliament with a Brexit deal that recognises her party’s concerns and delivers in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
“Under the draft withdrawal agreement Northern Ireland would have to follow EU rules on a wide range of agriculture-related issues,” she said.
“This arrangement goes much further than that applied to the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland would have the added disadvantage of having no say in the rules or a mechanism to remove ourselves from them.”
Referring to the Irish backstop, Mrs Dodds stressed that the proposed measure delivers a different regulatory arrangement within the UK, with increased checks between GB and Northern Ireland from day one.
“Given that checks are being carried out means there is an inherent difference between GB and Northern Ireland, effectively meaning goods would have to comply with EU rules and not those of GB,” she said.
“The draft agreement includes 68 pages of EU laws, including hundreds of goods to which Northern Ireland would be tied but the UK could change.”
“It would also put us in a regime which requires us to follow EU rules on state aid, VAT and abide by what level we could subside agriculture.”
On the issue of state aid, the DUP representative explained that food processors in GB could potentially get access to funding to ensure their plants are more efficient whilst local companies would not.
“This makes Northern Ireland less competitive. The same principle would apply if Scotland provides a coupled support payment and Northern Ireland couldn’t match it under EU state aid rules. Our industry would therefore be at a disadvantage.”
Mrs Dodds continued: “Our largest market for agri-food produce is Great Britain, accounting for 75% of everything we produce. This trade is vital to the success of Northern Ireland’s economy. What the withdrawal agreement gives us is legally certainty to the EU market but leaves us exposed to access to our largest market
“Given that we are also following EU, and not UK rules, there is a clear opportunity for divergence in production and marketing standards which would put us at odds with our biggest market.
“Market accreditation like the red tractor scheme is vital. But will it be accessible to Northern Ireland, which is producing to an EU standard?
“And what about access to glyphosate and GM products? If the UK fast track’s its authorisation process, will Northern Ireland have to compete with GB farmers who have access to cheaper feed materials?
“The draft withdrawal agreement has a lot of detail on the need for a level playing field between the UK and EU but it delivers a very unfair playing field for Northern Ireland under the backstop. This is not the best of both markets.”
Mrs Dodds pointed out that the DUP has given the Prime Minister the space to agree a plan which offered Northern Ireland a sensible Brexit deal.
She added: “Our only red line was that Northern Ireland wasn’t treated any differently from the rest of the UK. Unfortunately, that red line and indeed the Prime Minister’s own promises have been broken.
“During the negotiations held between the UK and the EU last December we ensured that the need for unfettered access both to and from GB was included in the objectives agreed at that time, as well as the principle that Stormont would have a future say in regulations governing Northern Ireland.
“These additions would have helped to protect Northern Ireland. However, the current withdrawal agreement does not go far enough on unfettered access and Stormont’s role is deleted.
“This week our party leader Arlene Foster suggested the DUP would be willing to consider a Norway type deal. We want a deal but it must be the right deal for Northern Ireland.
Mrs Dodds concluded: “The DUP has always said it wants a sensible Brexit. We are not backing a no deal. This is not a binary choice between Theresa May’s deal or a no deal.
“The Prime Minister’s willingness to go back to Europe in recent weeks highlights that it never was. We must continue to fight for a better deal. The sooner we get to this point and stop wasting time on the current impasse the better for all.”