‘Brexit will be a disaster for the people of this island’

The survival of farming and agri-food in Northern Ireland hangs in the balance as a result of Brexit, according to Matt Carthy, Sinn Fein MEP.

Speaking at the launch of Sinn Fein’s ‘Farming and Brexit’ document late last week, outside the Enniskillen mart, Carthy said Brexit will be a “disaster” for everyone on the island of Ireland, but in particular those involved in agriculture.

Carthy criticised the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), saying the party has serious questions to answer for supporting the Conservative Party and “putting rural communities in such a position”.

Sinn Fein has homed in on the “importance of securing special designated status for Northern Ireland” when the UK leaves the EU. The potential negative impact on farmers, says Sinn Fein, has underlined the need to attain special status.

Carthy outlined three key challenges facing agriculture as a result of Brexit:

  • Major loss of funding – European subsidies to the region’s farmers, totalling £236 million a year through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), are unlikely to be maintained at the same level.
  • Costly barriers – Irish agriculture operates in a highly-integrated manner, with many sectors completely all-island in nature. Barriers including tariffs, origin checks, more paperwork, physical border checks and two different regulatory regimes will cause serious disruption.
  • Vulnerability to cheap imports – The region’s market could be flooded with cheap, unchecked imports if EU food safety regulations cease to apply.

“There is also uncertainty as to the future status of the many thousands of EU nationals who are a critical part of the workforce in the agri-food sector in the North,” he added.

What special designated status means is that the North, to all intents and purposes, remains part of the EU – it remains part of the Single Market, the Customs Union and is able to draw down CAP funding into the future.

To avoid the potential threat to agriculture in the North, Carthy is adamant special designated status for the North within the EU must be achieved; as well as negotiating a free and fair trade deal, with equivalence of standards in terms of food safety, traceability, animal health and welfare.

“There is long-standing recognition at EU-level of the special and unique circumstances that exist in Ireland, and given the different membership and associate membership models that already operate within the EU, it is possible to find a solution for Ireland,” Carthy concluded.