‘We must keep farmers farming’ - McAleer
Sinn Féin’s rural affairs spokesperson Declan McAleer has said that Brexit will be disastrous for agribusiness and all steps must be taken to keep farmers farming.
The West Tyrone MLA was addressing a panel discussion on the impact of Brexit at an Agri-business conference organised by agendaNI in conjunction with Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council and Food Heartland.
He said: “I made a strong case at the conference that the north voted to remain and should get special EU status to reflect this democratic mandate. The free movement of goods, services and people is absolutely critical in the agri food industry which relies on workers from other EU countries.
“The agrifood business, which has an island wide trade of £1.3billion per year is highly integrated across the island. There are 142 areas of north/south co-operation, underpinned by the ‘All Island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy’. To unravel this would be a complete disaster for the industry and undermine the tremendous progress that been achieved in making Ireland a world leader for high quality, traceable and tasty food.
“The argument that Brexit will open up a larger British market for our producers is overly simplistic and laden with danger. Firstly, even though Britain is not self-sustainable, it still exports around £18 billion of agri-produce per year.
“A proportion of this will invariably find its way into the home market and combined with the Tories intention to pursue a cheap food policy by entering into trade deals with countries outside of the EU, will create huge market disturbance and put even greater pressure on farmers who will be forced to compete against lower standard, cheaper imports.
“Sinn Féin recognises this and is advancing the case at all levels that the north should secure special status. We strongly believe that farmers basic payments should be retained and in light of the seismic market disturbance that Brexit will create we believe that Article 19 of the Common Market Organisation Regulation should be triggered to create a fund to support farmers. It is vital that all steps are taken to ‘keep farmers farming’.
“I am both frustrated and intrigued at the Tories and their DUP cheerleaders telling us that Brexit can usher in opportunities for the industry. I have yet to hear them spell out precisely what the benefits are of extricating us from our nearest neighbours and the largest trading bloc in the world.
“The reality is that Theresa May and the Tories/DUP Brexiteers are driving us towards the Brexit cliff edge and unless we secure special status with access to the single market within the customs union they will bring the industry down with them.
“There is too much at stake. The north needs special status and Sinn Féin will continue to lead the campaign to secure this.”