Brexit – it’s time for Ireland to look towards Europe

The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, was in Ireland last week and used the opportunity of his visit to lay out the real plan of action that will be followed when it comes to settling the ‘Brexit Affair’.

And his unambiguous message had two very clear themes. The first of these was his absolute confirmation that Brussels will be the sole negotiating body, when it comes to settling matters with Britain.

And, closely associated with this reality, came his strong advice to the effect that the Irish government must have the other 26 EU Member States on board when it comes to pushing for a free trade deal with the UK.

The Commissioner also stressed the need for Ireland to come up with six or possibly seven Brexit priorities – not 700 – and to have these relayed to the EU’s negotiators in pretty short order.

So, perhaps it’s time for the Irish Government, the IFA, ICMSA and ICSA to shift their focus away from London and start forging real friendships around in the other 26 capital cities around Europe where they will need real allies over the coming two years.

For the record, Hogan confirmed his personal preference for a free trade arrangement with Britain being the best outcome for Ireland in the context of the final Brexit deal. He also suggested that such an arrangement would ensure that the UK must adhere to EU food production standards when it comes to London securing free trade arrangements with other countries around the world.

This latter point is particularly important. The UK being flooded with cheap food; which was not produced to the welfare, traceability and environmental standards demanded of Irish farmers; is the last thing Ireland’s food industry needs post-Brexit.

Hogan believes that the CETA deal recently agreed between Canada and the EU is the blueprint which should be followed when it comes to Brussels and London sorting out their differences. And, again, he’s probably right. The clear issue of difference though is the fact that Canada is a net exporter of food: the UK is not.

As a side bar to this piece, I note the alarm expressed by Ireland’s farm lobby groups regarding Canada’s right to export 50,000t of beef into the EU.

But surely the question should be: how much beef can Canada actually export to Europe, given the quality related contingencies built into the treaty? And, of course, CETA also allows the Irish milk sector to export product into one of the world’s most exclusive dairy markets.

But the biggest issue that should be concerning Ireland’s Brexit negotiating team is the time it took to get the CETA deal over the line. We are talking years. So compare this with the 24 months that have been allocated to the formal Brexit negotiations!