Hard border a disaster for Northern Ireland farmers, says head of UFU

Ivor Ferguson
Ivor Ferguson


An increasingly likely hard Irish border for food and livestock will be "disastrous" for Northern Ireland's farmers, the head of the Ulster Farmers Union has said.

The British and Irish governments, businesses, agriculture and the EU27 are now firmly on a footing for a 'no-deal' scenario in just 99 days, with the Northern Ireland Civil Service preparing a 'Brexit bunker' of officials to help cope with anticipated disruption.

The European Commission has indicated there will have to be checks on foods such as meat and milk between the Republic and Northern Ireland from March 29. Such a move would be a devastating blow for farmers and the agri-food sector, which will have few immediate ways of offsetting the impact.

The Irish government has now released its own no-deal plan which Tanaiste Simon Coveney described as "stark" and "sobering". It warns of an "exceptional economic event which would be met with exceptional measures".

While a series of warnings are outlined, Dublin makes it clear that the agri-food sector is particularly at risk.

Hundreds of thousands of litres of milk from the Republic goes to Northern Ireland to be processed daily, before making its way back down again and onto supermarket shelves. And 500,000 southern pigs are sent to Northern Ireland every year for processing, while at least half of Northern Ireland's lamb heads south of the border.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said agriculture was dangerously vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit.

"A 'no-deal' Brexit would put the UK over a cliff edge and would effectively mean the closure of export markets, which no one wants to see happen," he said.

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The European Commission yesterday released plans for dealing with a no-deal scenario, including how it plans to mitigate the impact on trade.

Worryingly for Ireland, the documents suggest that border checks on live animals will have to take place from March 29 onwards.

They say that if the UK crashes out of the EU on March 29, "every consignment of live animals and animal products coming from the UK would have to undergo, as of the withdrawal date, checks in Union border inspection posts (BIPs) at the point of entry into the EU".

Mr Ferguson said this would be "disastrous".

"It will mean queues and queues of lorries," he said.

"There is no infrastructure set up. It would be an absolute disaster for agriculture."

He added that new levies would be a concern, as sheep farming could be rendered unprofitable.

It also emerged yesterday that the NI Civil Service (NICS) is ramping up plans for a no-deal Brexit.

David Sterling, Northern Ireland's most senior civil servant, has written to his 23,000 staff seeking volunteers to man "command, control and coordination structures" dealing with potential post-Brexit disruption.

They will work in departmental operations centres and a central Northern Ireland hub which may need to be continually staffed.

The hub will co-ordinate Northern Ireland's response and will be operated jointly between Stormont's Executive Office and the NIO.

Mr Sterling's letter said NICS is planning for a no-deal Brexit and a "worst case scenario" involving "sustained and widespread disruption".

Meanwhile in Dublin, Mr Coveney admitted there is currently no proposal for how a hard border will be avoided in a no-deal scenario, saying one would be "much, much more complicated" than the backstop.

The Tanaiste said the European Commission "has shown capacity to understand the complexities on this island in the last two years".

But when asked if that meant they would give the Republic leeway on the border if the UK leaves without a deal, he replied: "We don't know."

Dublin Port is creating extra parking for hundreds of trucks from the UK awaiting inspection after Brexit, the Irish government also revealed yesterday.

Dozens more bays to carry out checks will also be made in a bid to avoid halting other traffic, plans for a no-deal scenario revealed.

The contingency plan states: "A no-deal Brexit would require an immediate focus on crisis management and possible temporary solutions (political, economic, administrative, legislative and communication), which would be rapidly implemented until the necessary longer-term adjustments are in place.

"For Ireland, a no-deal Brexit would potentially involve severe macroeconomic, trade and sectoral impacts. Grappling with the enormous range of impacts both in the immediate short term and in the longer term will involve difficult and significant choice of a practical, strategic and political nature."

Belfast Telegraph

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