'We've got your back' Varadkar tells farmers

Leo Varadkar has been criticised (Tom Honan/PA)
Leo Varadkar has been criticised (Tom Honan/PA)
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the Government has got the back of the agriculture and fishing industries as Brexit looms.

Speaking in the Dail yesterday, he said 30pc or 40pc of Government time is now taken up with Brexit.

"Our farmers, fishermen and agrifood industry are at the forefront of my mind and the minds of all in this Government because they and the rural economies associated with them are most likely to be adversely affected by Brexit.

"This is one of the reasons we are putting so much work into this.

"We do so because we want to protect the livelihoods of our farmers and fishermen along with our agrifood industry and everyone who depends on it.

"This is why we are working so hard to secure a deal and a deal that means that no tariffs or quotas will be imposed on our farming exports.

"The entire industry can be assured that the Government has its back in that regard.

"The same thing applies with CAP reform and our efforts to ensure no agreement is made regarding Mercosur that adversely affects our beef industry in particular," he said.

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The Taoiseach 's comments come in the wake of stinging criticism of his remarks that he’s eating less meat to reduce his carbon footprint.

It prompted a wave of criticism from farmers groups with Irish Cattle and Sheep Association president Patrick Kent saying they were “reckless in the extreme”.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat McCormack said Mr Varadkar’s “timing couldn’t be worse” due to Brexit. He defended the environmental record of the Irish beef and dairy industries. On Mr Varadkar’s subsequent linking of red meat to cancer, Mr McCormack appealed to him to “pause for a minute and think about the impact of his remarks on the reputation and standing of the biggest indigenous economic sector in the state”.

Irish Farmer’s Association president Joe Healy the remarks were “disappointing” arguing that Irish farmers have increased their output without increasing emissions.

He said farmers would seek clarification on Mr Varadkar’s remarks when he attends their AGM later this month.

Meanwhile, the EU's stance on the necessity for a Border in a no deal Brexit has dramatically hardened.

In a devastating blow to the Government, the EU now appears to be leaning on Dublin for concessions ahead of a final showdown with the UK.

Brussels has indicated there will be an obligation on Ireland to erect a hard Border in a disorderly Brexit.

Officials gave Tánaiste Simon Coveney no warning before publicly declaring the “obvious” outcome of a hard Brexit will be a hard Border.

The development left ministers struggling to come up with a coherent response. On one hand, the Government claimed to be “preparing for all eventualities” but at the same time “absolutely” denied planning for Border checks.

While seeking to shift the onus for a solution back on to Westminster, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this country will face a “real dilemma” if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

He insisted the backstop is still alive, saying: “We cannot give it up in return for a promise that it will be all right on the night.”

Asked what would happen on March 29 if the UK leaves without a deal, Mr Varadkar said a hard Border would not be acceptable.

"We would have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that would mean full alignment so there would be no hard Border," he said.

"We already have that agreement and that is the backstop. Nobody who is opposed to the backstop can credibly state he or she is also against a hard Border unless he or she can come up with something else that aligns customs and regulations and allows a Border to be avoided. Nobody else has done that yet."

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