Thursday 23 January 2020

Arlene Foster warns Theresa May the north's economy and farming sector vulnerable to a loss of EU funding and tariffs on trade

Arlene Foster. Photo: PA
Arlene Foster. Photo: PA

Colm Kelpie, Brexit Correspondent

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, who backed a Brexit vote, has warned Theresa May that the north's economy and farming sector is vulnerable to a loss of EU funding and tariffs on trade.

In a joint letter with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to the UK Prime Minister, the two leaders pointed out the importance to Northern Ireland of EU funds.

They said the north’s agri-food sector, including fisheries, represents a much more important component of the region’s economy than it does for the UK as a whole.

“This is reflected in the fact that approximately 10pc of UK receipts from the CAP (Common Agriculture Policy) accrue to Northern Ireland (accounting for the majority of our EU funding) and a large proportion of our food and agriculture output is exported to other EU and non EU countries,” they said.

“Our agri-food sector, and hence our wider economy, is therefore uniquely vulnerable both to the loss of EU funding, and to potential tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade.”

The leaders state that EU funds have been important to the Northern Ireland economy and peace process, and that since 1994, the north has received €13bn of European funding.

Between 2014 and 2020, it expects  to draw down more than €3.5bn.

“The current uncertainty around the ability to draw down a proportion of these funds, and the absence of EU programmes in the future, is of real concern to a range of sectors,” the letter states.

Ms Foster, who is also leader of the DUP, backed the pro-Brexit campaign. She was the only leader of the north’s main political parties to do so.

Northern Ireland voted in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, by 56pc to 44pc.

Prime Minister May visited Belfast late last month.

In the letter, dated today, Ms Foster and Mr McGuinness listed a number of issues of concern to the north in the wake of the vote, including the border, trade access to EU markets, energy security, and EU funds.

On the border, the leaders said they appreciated Ms May’s comments that the border would not become an impediment to the movement of people, goods and services.

“It must not become a catalyst for illegal activity or compromise in any way the arrangements relating to criminal justice and tackling organised crime,” the letter states.

“It is equally important that the border does not create an incentive for those who would wish to undermine the peace process and/or the political settlement.”

The leaders also state that it is essential that Northern Ireland businesses retain trading access to EU markets, and retain access to labour.

They said policies need to be “sufficiently flexible” to allow access to workers from the EU, both for the private and public sectors.

“There is also the matter of the many thousands of people who commute each way across the border to work on a daily basis,” the letter states.

The letter has also been copied to Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Brexit minister David Davis, Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, Business Secretary Greg Clarke, and the leaders of the other devolved administrations.

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