French farm leader calls for a ‘hard border’ on the island of Ireland post-Brexit

Recent calls by a French farm leader for the introduction of a ‘hard’ border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been criticised by the ICMSA.

The calls for a ‘hard’ border to be introduced have been described as ‘disappointingly self-centered‘ by the President of the Irish Creamery and Milk Supplier’s Association (ICMSA), John Comer.

Comer was reacting to comments made by Christophe Hillairet, who is a council member of COPA (European agricultural union) and the leader of a regional French farmers association. 

Hillairet was reportedly afraid that the UK would sign agreements to import food from the Commonwealth; he was particularly concerned by how these imports might find their way into the Republic of Ireland and the wider EU, according to the ICMSA.

‘Europe is the most important focus’

Speaking to Agra Europe earlier this week, Hillairet said that Europe is the most important focus for French farmers at present and that they are very worried about the departure of the UK from the EU.

“Ireland is a big problem; for the French farmer, we will need to have a hard border between the North and the Republic as otherwise we will have a lot of products that will cross from north to south.

“That would be very dangerous for our producers,” the French farm leader told Agra Europe.

However, the President of the ICMSA has said that these comments were ‘at best premature and could more frankly be described as self-centred’.

Hillairet must be aware of the history of suffering and conflict in that border region, Comer said.

The continued avoidance of this suffering and conflict would continue to take clear precedence over the anxieties of French farm groups, as far as both Ireland and the UK were concerned, he added.

These are farming and rural communities, who own lands and collect and process milk in plants on both sides of the border.

“The farming communities concerned have every right to expect that the EU and the UK would continue – so far as was possible with goodwill and intelligence – to facilitate that absolutely natural process,” Comer said.

Fear of New Zealand lamb

Hillairet also expressed fears to Agra Europe that lamb from New Zealand could arrive in Northern Ireland and cross a ‘soft’ border into the Republic of Ireland, before entering the mainland EU markets.

However, there is already a whole ‘Third-Country-Of-Origin’ labelling procedure worked out and operated satisfactorily throughout the EU; the UK’s continued adherence to that procedure could be negotiated as part of the overall Brexit process, Comer said.

EU farm leaders need to show some degree of solidarity and commitment to the Irish farming communities, who are – by a considerable margin – the most affected sector within the EU in relation to Brexit, he added.

“The only people who would have enjoyed reading Monsieur Hillariet’s comments were the very anti-EU British Eurosceptics, who want to play the different member states off against each other and who want to [instill] that feeling of tension between different sectors and nations.

“That must not happen and with respect to our French friends we would prefer them to reflect on the common good and not just on their own particular sectoral anxieties,” Comer said.