Farmers face ‘Armageddon’ if hard border is created – IFA

Delegation visits Norway-Sweden border where vehicles can sometimes be delayed for two days

IFA president Joe Healy - ‘Our position remains: no border on the island of Ireland, no border in the Irish Sea and no scope for the UK to pursue a cheap food policy.’ Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

IFA president Joe Healy - ‘Our position remains: no border on the island of Ireland, no border in the Irish Sea and no scope for the UK to pursue a cheap food policy.’ Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

 

Irish farmers face “Armageddon” if the UK remains outside the customs union and a hard border is created on the island of Ireland, their most senior representative has said.

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy was speaking following a visit by 40 farmers to the border between Norway and Sweden to examine the impact on business and trade when crossing a land border between a country inside the EU and one outside.

The delegation spoke to officials and witnessed customs checks in operation ahead of next week’s EU summit to discuss Britain’s exit from the union.

Mr Healy said their concerns about Brexit had been heightened as a result of the visit on Thursday. He added that it was “fantasy stuff” to believe there could be anything other than a hard border on the island of Ireland if the UK was outside the customs union.

The IFA delegation, including national officers and county chairs had a joint briefing from senior customs officials from Norway and Sweden.

Speaking from Norway on Friday, Mr Healy said the IFA delegation had met three senior customs officials with almost 100 years of experience between them.

He said that while there was “excellent” co-operation between Norway and Sweden in relation to border checks, there could still be delays to commercial traffic.

Two day delays

The border point the delegation visited was the “second busiest” between the two countries and it was still not open for 24 hours a day, Mr Healy said.

The officials informed the farmers’ group that there could be delays to some vehicles of anywhere between two minutes and two days, he said.

There were about 14,000 commercial crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic every day, he added.

Mr Healy said many in the UK had cited the Scandinavian border as an example of one which caused minimum disruption to trade.

But he said he was struck by “the logistical challenges for trade that arise from the border despite the fact that the arrangement has been in place for over 20 years”.

“While Norway is part of the EEA and the Single Market, the fact that it is not in the customs union leads to inevitable bureaucracy and checking, which causes delays and adds to the cost of doing business,” he said.

“There is no question that the border crossing poses significant difficulties for those who wish to trade between the two countries. Technological advances cannot mask the fact that having a border with a country outside the EU is extremely challenging.”

Clarity needed

There was growing concern among farmers about the lack of progress on the Brexit talks, he said.

“Two years on from the decision, we need clarity on what the outcome will be. There is a general acceptance that not much progress will be made in Brussels next week, but the withdrawal agreement is due to be finalised by October,” Mr Healy said.

“Our position remains: no border on the island of Ireland, no border in the Irish Sea and no scope for the UK to pursue a cheap food policy.”

He said he welcomed the solidarity from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker during his visit to Dublin on Thursday, adding that the impact on Ireland, and on our largest indigenous sector which was agri-food, had to remain central to the EU negotiating position.

Mr Healy said the task for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Government was to hold the EU to its position and to guarantee that Irish farmers were not exposed in the final outcome.

“The UK is our best market and we do not want to see trade disrupted, either by value or volume,” he said.