Emergency EU aid for farmers to be sought for Brexit fallout

'No-deal' UK withdrawal would lead to massive losses for farmers

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron
Leo Varadkar (PA)
John Downing

John Downing

The Government will seek hundreds of millions of euro in special aid from Brussels if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

Dublin has already alerted the EU Commission that it will be lobbying for emergency aid to cope with the fallout to Irish trade, particularly for the beef, dairy and fishing sectors.

With Westminster deadlocked, fears are growing that Britain will exit the EU in just 12 weeks’ time without a deal.

However, it also comes at a time when Ireland is under increasing pressure from key EU member states, such as France and Germany, to increase taxes on multinational high-tech companies in Ireland.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has told the Irish Independent that if, and when, a hard Brexit becomes a reality, Ireland will be making a case for major grant aid.

“You’re looking at hundreds of millions here. Between the beef industry and the fishing industry we’re talking mega-money,” he said.

The move for special aid would reverse a trend in which Ireland was a net contributor to EU coffers after decades of lavish farm, regional and social fund grants worth tens of billions.

The Agriculture Minister said he would make Irish aid a key agenda item when EU agriculture ministers meet in Luxembourg in early April, just after the Brexit deadline of March 29 next.

Farmers at Elphin mart check out lots at the recent charolais sale. But Brexit will bring huge problems for the farming sector. Photo: Brian Farrell
Farmers at Elphin mart check out lots at the recent charolais sale. But Brexit will bring huge problems for the farming sector. Photo: Brian Farrell

"There is a high level of awareness of Ireland's unique exposure to the UK food market. But I think nobody wants to talk about it right now because there is still a hope and expectation that a level of sanity will prevail," Mr Creed said.

The minister added he is optimistic Ireland will succeed - but given the level of money to be sought this cannot be taken for granted.

"I think we would get help. It's all about the level of help," Mr Creed added.

The Agriculture Minister, who has been attending EU meetings for the last three years, said the odds on a crash-out or no-deal Brexit had shortened dramatically in recent weeks.

"In racing parlance the odds are slashed on a hard Brexit. A 'good Brexit' would not be as good as what we have right now - but a 'hard Brexit' is a beast of a different colour altogether," he warned.

Mr Creed said the UK market currently takes 50pc of Irish beef amounting to 280,000 tonnes per year, it takes 80,000 tonnes of cheddar cheese, and one-third of the fish in value terms caught by Irish boats comes from UK waters.

All of these would be huge losses to the Irish economy.

It is as yet unclear what tariffs, if any, would apply to Irish meat and dairy products going into the UK. But even if it is tariff-free, under World Trade Organisation rules, beef produced far more cheaply in South American countries, with lower veterinary, environmental and animal welfare standards, would also have to get tariff-free market access.

"At the moment Irish farmers are losing their shirts on beef netting €3.80 per kilo," he said.

Mr Creed said the Brexit fallout, which saw huge drops in the value of sterling, had already hit the Irish food sector.

"A hard Brexit would make that look like a teddy bears' picnic," he remarked.

He said the Government will now accelerate its Brexit preparations.

He added there will be no checks on farm produce along the Border with the North.

But preparations are at an advanced stage to hire hundreds of plant and animal health inspectors for Dublin Port and airport as well as Rosslare Port.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says no government would "willingly" impose a no deal exit on its people.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to put pressure on the EU by preparing for a no deal Brexit as she tries to get extra concessions. But Mr Hunt appeared to suggest that no deal was not a serious prospect, as he warned against the "disruption" it would cause. He said neither a no deal Brexit nor a second referendum was desirable.

"We have to remember that a no deal Brexit would cause disruption that could last some time. Even if you are someone who believes that Britain will flourish and prosper whatever that disruption might be, that is not something that any government should willingly wish on its people.

"A second referendum would be also incredibly damaging in a different way... the social consequences of not going ahead and leaving the EU on the 29th of March as we have been instructed to do would be devastating."

VIDEO: Theresa May calls on MPs to back Brexit deal in New Year message 

Irish Independent