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No-deal Brexit could ‘decimate’ NI’s lamb industry, says DUP MP

North’s sheep sector faces ‘major problems’, says Upper Bann MP David Simpson

About 90 per cent of lamb produced in Northern Ireland is exported. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A leading Northern Ireland sheep farmer has urged the DUP to be “pragmatic” and “flexible” in its negotiations after one of its MPs acknowledged that a no-deal Brexit could “decimate” the North’s lamb industry.

Former Ulster Farmers’ Union chairman Campbell Tweed made his call after DUP MP David Simpson accepted that if sheep farmers had to operate under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules after Brexit it would devastate the industry.

“I spoke to the lamb industry a few weeks ago, and if we go to WTO for that industry… and tariffs of 14 per cent or 15 per cent are introduced, that would decimate the Northern Ireland lamb industry overnight, given that we export 90 per cent of our lamb,” said Mr Simpson.

He acknowledged the threat during a debate on agribusiness in the House of Commons last week after an intervention by Labour MP Mary Creagh.

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As the “granddaughter of a Fermanagh cattle farmer” Ms Creagh asked Mr Simpson did he agree that in a no-deal Brexit that working under WTO rules “tariffs of 30 per cent on our lamb and beef” would “drive most of the beef and cattle and lamb producers in this country out of business?”

He said farmers “know that there will probably be some trying times, but they are excited by the opportunities that we will have after we have left the European Union”.

But after Ms Creagh made her point Mr Simpson acknowledged the dangers to the industry. He said that the “right deal” must be achieved and that he didn’t think anybody wanted to go “towards WTO” rules.

“If the right deal is not there, we will have major problems with our industry and employment, and the sector will be decimated. We therefore have to get the right deal,” said Mr Simpson.

He accused the EU of “sticking in its heels” while again accepting the danger to the lamb industry in Northern Ireland.

Mr Tweed who runs a hill and upland farm of 3,000 ewes on the edge of the Glens of Antrim said that the DUP must “bear in mind the commercial interests of Northern Ireland Plc, and be pragmatic” when negotiating on Brexit with the British government.