Ulster Farmers' Union hit back at 'unjustified' criticism for backing EU deal
The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has hit back at criticism over its support of the draft agreement reached on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.
Responding to criticism from TUV leader Jim Allister, UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: "As with any large industry, there are wide ranging views within our membership.
"During the EU referendum, the UFU didn’t take an official position but following the result we got down to the business trying to secure the best Brexit deal for agriculture. As always, our focus is securing the best future possible for our family-run farms in Northern Ireland.
"We are a democratic organisation and we represent around 11,500 family farms. It is unrealistic to expect that all our members will agree 100 per cent on everything, all of the time.
"The UFU has argued that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would have a devastating impact on farmers in Northern Ireland. This has been supported by a number of independent reports from AFBI, LMC, and more.
"‘No deal’ has been considered extensively within the UFU’s internal committee structure and has consistently been found to be the worst of all possible options. The position was confirmed again at our Executive meeting in October."
“Also, we have always called for a solution that allowed NI farmers unfettered access to the GB market, while at the same time allowing the long-standing trading relationship between NI and ROI to continue."
TUV leader Jim Allister has said he is "greatly disappointed" at the UFU's backing of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The UFU, which represents farmers across Northern Ireland, earlier warned that a no-deal Brexit would be "absolutely disastrous" for local farming and agri-food sector.
The Confederation of British Industry NI, Federation of Small Businesses NI, Institute of Directors NI and NI Chamber of Commerce have all backed the deal.
However, TUV leader Jim Allister has expressed amazement in particular at the UFU's support for the agreement.
He said: “I’d like to put down the anti-Brexit euphoria for Mrs May’s deal from business interests as naivety, but when you see the ‘usual suspects’ – headed up by the CBI – line up as government supplicants you soon recognise the lackey syndrome.
“How the UFU in particular could join this chorus of embracing the break-up of the UK single market – on which they depend – is beyond rationalisation.
"Urging MPs to vote for an Irish Sea regulatory border is madness, as well as accepting NI as part of the EU’s custom territory. Have they forgotten the business supply chain is a two way process and, therefore, rushing to impede GB/NI trade is as dangerous as it is absurd.
“I’m greatly disappointed that the UFU has abandoned the settled will of most farmers that they wish to leave the EU in all its parts."
Unionists have expressed anger that the deal would see Northern Ireland aligned with EU rules and remain part of the single market with checks on some goods coming in from the UK to Northern Ireland, if the BRexit backstop is implemented.
Mr Allister added: "Now is a time for anyone who values the prosperity which the UK Union has brought us to recognise that at this seminal moment to endorse Mrs May’s plan is to endorse the break-up of the UK.
"I do not believe such accords with the desires of Ulster farmers. Pity it seems to be the vision of their union.”