North’s farmers say Gove is underestimating impact of no-deal Brexit

Minister says no-deal would put North’s farmers at a ‘significant disadvantage’. Farmers warn it would be ‘catastrophic’

British environment secretary Michael Gove. He said under no-deal there would be zero tariffs on food exports from the Republic to Northern Ireland, while goods travelling from the North to the South could face high tariffs. Photograph: Andy Rain

British environment secretary Michael Gove. He said under no-deal there would be zero tariffs on food exports from the Republic to Northern Ireland, while goods travelling from the North to the South could face high tariffs. Photograph: Andy Rain

 

Northern Ireland farming leaders have warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the industry after the British environment secretary Michael Gove said the UK crashing out of the EU would set the Northern agriculture and food sector at a “significant disadvantage”.

Former Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Campbell Tweed said Mr Gove was guilty of “serious understatement”, while its current president, Ivor Ferguson, said a no-deal would result in “catastrophic and irreparable consequences” for Northern Ireland’s farming families and their businesses.

Mr Ferguson and Mr Tweed were responding to comments Mr Gove made on Wednesday to the Westminster environment, food and rural affairs committee.

Mr Gove said that under no-deal there would be zero tariffs on food exports from the Republic to Northern Ireland, while goods travelling from the North to the South could face high tariffs.

The extent of such levies would depend on what the European Union and the Irish Government chose to do, said Mr Gove.

Mr Ferguson said farmers had a very real concern that a zero per cent tariff on agricultural goods coming from the Republic into Northern Ireland, and the differential treatment and tariffs applying the other way, “would drive down prices and hit producers” in the North.

“It could also potentially open the door to illegal trade which would seriously impact on the integrity of the NI agri-food industry.

Zero tariff

“It is unlikely the EU would offer the same zero tariff to Northern Ireland or the UK as a whole. This is why we have called for reciprocal tariffs. Whatever the EU applies, the UK should apply in return. The tariff plans emphasise why a no-deal Brexit must be avoided,” said Mr Ferguson, who is a sheep and cereal farmer in Co Armagh.

He added that in a no-deal Brexit situation farmers “would face immediate practical and logistical issues, which will have a profound impact on their businesses, causing major disruptions to the supply chain, crippling the industry and rendering our farms uncompetitive”.

Mr Ferguson added: “If it comes to this farmers will need separate and additional funding for offsetting crisis measures. The UFU has always argued that a Brexit solution must be found that does not hamper trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, allows the long-standing trading relationship between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland to continue with minimal disruption, and enables frictionless trade with the rest of the EU.

“The UFU’s sole focus has always been on what is best for the future of our family-run businesses in Northern Ireland.”

Way forward

Mr Tweed, a sheep farmer in Co Antrim, also said no-deal would be “catastrophic”. He said it was very hard to see what the “way ahead is going to be”.

He feared that under a no-deal farm exports out of Northern Ireland could involve tariffs of around 40 per cent under World Trade Organisation rules.

This, he added, could be devastating for lamb and beef prices, and could lead to the market in the UK being “flooded” with cheaper meat because farmers would have great difficulty exporting their produce outside the UK.

Mr Tweed said in a no-deal situation Northern Ireland and British farmers would also be competing with New Zealand sheep farmers, who had access to the UK market with a low preferential tariff rate.

“There is complete uncertainty at the moment, but if the UK crashes out of the EU tariffs are likely to be punitive.”