UK minister rang Tánaiste to reassure Ireland over beef ‘trade war’

Creed says agrifood supports only ‘when we know what sort of Brexit we’re dealing with’

The Tánaiste said that trying to put Ireland under pressure in terms of beef ‘is not a tactic or official position being adopted by the British government’.

The Tánaiste said that trying to put Ireland under pressure in terms of beef ‘is not a tactic or official position being adopted by the British government’.

 

UK cabinet office minister David Lidington rang the Tánaiste last week to reassure him that reports of UK threats to import Brazilian beef on a tariff-free quota basis did not come from the British government.

Simon Coveney told the Dáil that Mr Lidington, de facto British deputy prime minister, contacted him following media reports of pressure from the UK on the Irish beef sector, that were being referred to as a “trade war”.

The Tánaiste said that trying to put Ireland under pressure in terms of beef “is not a tactic or official position being adopted by the British government”.

Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers had asked what contact the Tánaiste had had with the British authorities in the wake of the reports.

Ms Chambers said that the UK was “aware of our vulnerabilities and exposure in the beef sector, given that the UK market is of particular importance to our agrifood sector”.

She said some MPs were “attempting to suggest that same might be used to twist our arm and seek concessions on the backstop”.

Mr Coveney described as “unfortunate” a report about trade wars in beef and using that sector to put pressure on Ireland, with a sector worth €5.25 billion.

Frustrated

The Tánaiste said that following those headlines, he got a call from his counterpart in Britain.

He said Mr Lidington was concerned about the reports and “made it clear to me that they were not coming from the British government”.

Mr Coveney said there were “elements within the Westminster system that are frustrated that they cannot get over this issue of the backstop and want to see some pressure being applied to Ireland.

“Similarly, comments have been made here about putting pressure on the system in Westminster to get a deal done.”

Later, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed acknowledged the concerns of TDs that there was no reference in Brexit Omnibus Bill to a support package for farmers and the agrifood sector.

But he said it is not possible to introduce a support package “until we know what type of Brexit we are dealing with, with or without a deal, and the implications of such a Brexit on the agrifood and fishing sectors”.

He pointed out that the legislation did not deal with agriculture because it is a sector dealt with at EU level but Mr Creed insisted that “we will not be found wanting when it comes to supporting the sector”.

Fianna Fáil Cavan-Monaghan TD Brendan Smith warned that if there was a severe market disturbance, there was an immediate need for emergency measures.

“They need to be put in place right away so that confidence in the sector is not lost,” he said.