Farmers should be wary of populist tirades against imports by people who also demand more exports to the same countries
The mess that is Brexit rumbles on and on. Internal UK Conservative Party politics and leadership survival have been given priority, rather than any long-term trade agreements with the EU.
Initially, the UK tried to divide opinion among the EU member states on Brexit, but the EU has remained united — and the common position has defended Irish interests.
For Ireland and the UK, Brexit has been, and is, a huge issue, but for many other member states, it has hardly registered.
Since the Brexit vote six years ago, an experienced EU negotiating team, with a defined mandate from its leadership, has tried to put together a long-term trade agreement with a disorganised and inexperienced UK team that is floundering in populism.
The Tory leadership have built unrealistic expectations among the UK population about how they can force Brussels to meet their demands.
The EU is getting close to concluding a number of trade deals with other countries, and isn’t about to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement, which Boris Johnson signed in 2020.
These unrealistic expectations are not new. I recall a conversation in 2016 with a National Farmers Union (NFU) staff member who was very much pro-Brexit.
He believed that the UK would be in a stronger position after Brexit to secure a better deal for British farmers, where Irish beef would face tariffs going into the UK, and be forced off the UK supermarket shelves.
He also believed that British lamb would have free access to the French and EU market.
He did not understand that this type of deal would never be agreed to by the EU.
Unrealistic populist rhetoric is not isolated to British farmers. Here in Ireland there have been complaints from farm leaders about lambs from Northern Ireland being processed in Southern meat plants, while they demand more live exports of Southern cattle and pigs to the North.
Complaints have been voiced concerning Dutch pork being sold in Ireland, while again demands are made for greater sales of Irish dairy calves to the Netherlands.
Any barriers to trade within the Single Market would be devastating for Irish farmers.
Irish farmers need to have workable trade agreements that allow us to trade our meat and dairy products around the world. Those agreements also need to protect the EU Single Market that is the main export destination for our agricultural produce.
Irish and European farmers may not be happy with all the trade deals the EU have completed (with Mercosur top of the list), but the enforcement of European standards of food production to food imported into the EU is an area that all European farmers should agree on, and needs to be protected.
The desire by the UK to remove the checks on goods entering Northern Ireland (and by extension the EU), that was signed by the current UK government just 18 months ago, cannot be allowed to happen, as it would set a precedent for all future trade agreements.
The UK are outside the EU now and looking to do trade deals with other countries around the world. They appear willing to relax their standards on food imports, in order to secure those new trade agreements.
This creates the necessity to have the checks on goods from the UK trying to enter the EU.
Their inflation rate is running at over 10pc, while Boris Johnson is desperate to remain on as Prime Minister and is perpetuating an agenda of continued disagreement with the EU, to distract his electorate from his poor leadership.
He wishes to give the impression that he is fighting on behalf of the British public as part of a PR plan that risks starting a trade war with the EU, which would drive the cost of living even higher for the UK electorate.
Patience with the British government is wearing thin within the EU, which is still united in its response to Brexit, and any attempts by Johnson to cherry-pick favourable pieces of the agreement will be met with strong resistance from the EU’s leaders.
The dilemma now for Johnson is how to save face and reverse out of the dangerous economic corner he has led the UK into.
A trade war with the EU would be even more extreme than the hard Brexit that some in the Conservative Party had demanded back in 2016.
Angus Woods is a drystock farmer in Co Wicklow