The Ulster Farmers’ Union leadership team have met with Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss and clarify the UK’s draft withdrawal agreement from the EU.
UFU president, Ivor Ferguson, and chief executive, Wesley Aston, met the Prime Minister in London last week. While deputy presidents, Victor Chestnutt and David Brown, met with her when she visited Belfast on Tuesday (27th November). Discussions at both meetings covered a number of issues relating to agriculture including the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, maintaining standards, and how agriculture in Northern Ireland would be impacted by a no-deal Brexit.
Ferguson said, “We appreciate the opportunity to have met with the Prime Minister on two occasions in a relatively short space of time. The UFU gave her draft withdrawal agreement a cautious welcome. While not perfect, the agreement would ensure free and frictionless trade with the EU as well as ensuring goods from Northern Ireland would have unfettered access to GB. It also ensures minimal disruption to the long-standing relations between NI and the Republic of Ireland.”
The UFU has always said a no deal Brexit would be a disaster for farming in Northern Ireland. “We are focused on what is best for the future of our family-run farm businesses. Right now, the two options are this deal or no deal. If there was another option on the table, we would consider it,” said Mr Ferguson.
A no deal scenario would introduce steep EU tariffs on agriculture goods from the UK, effectively pricing the agri-food industry out of the market. Additionally, in the effort to deliver on the UK government’s commitment to keep food prices stable for consumers, the government could opt to offer lower import tariffs. Which, under WTO rules, would have to be available to trading partners across the globe. “In that case, we end up with a market flooded with cheaper, lower standard food imports. Farm gate prices would be undercut and local farmers would become uncompetitive,” said the UFU president.
The Prime Minister’s proposals still have significant political hurdles to overcome and the UFU is watching developments closely.