Comer calls for ‘political stability’, as crucial Brexit summit looms

It is “absolutely critical” that the government’s negotiating team is “fully focused” at upcoming Brexit talks in Brussels, despite on-going political wrangling in Leinster House, John Comer, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) has cautioned.

Speaking on RTE Radio One this morning, Comer said establishing political stability was crucial ahead of next month’s key summit of EU leaders on December 14 and 15.

Various public representatives have raised similar concerns in recent days, following mounting unease of a snap general election this Christmas.

Next month, EU heads of state will meet to decide on opening up phase two of the Brexit discussions – focused on the future shape of trade relationships.

Our exposure to the UK is absolutely enormous; that is why it is absolutely critical that we have a fully focused negotiating team going out to the next round of talks in December.

“It is of vital importance to the national interest that we have our best team there; that they are fully focused; and that they negotiate a deal that is compatible with the exposure that we have,” said Comer.

The Mayo based dairy farmer, who will step down from his six-year tenure as president of the ICMSA next month, warned that there are no guarantees that larger member states “will be particularly concerned about Ireland, a small member state on the periphery of Europe”.

“In terms of what ultimately unfolds under our trading capacity with our largest exporter – and largest consumer base – from an agricultural perspective, I am not so sure. Some of the bigger power brokers in Europe are still trying to make sure that Brexit is not comfortable for the UK.

“Any discomfort for the UK, is a massive pain for us in terms of trying to get over 100,000t of cheddar cheese in there annually. We will have 320,000t of beef to find a home for. All that is in the context of the EU currently negotiating another trade deal with the Mercosur region.

I’m not sure sure at Central Europe, that everybody is concerned about prioritising the interests of Ireland as a member state.

Speaking on the the ‘Today with Sean O’Rourke Show’, Comer highlighted that the lack of clarity on the future trade deal between the nations is creating huge problems for farmers and processors – particularly those in the border region.

“A hard Brexit would be catastrophic. If we ended up with a world trade agreement, where we could have up to 50% tariffs on some products going into the UK, the market would in effect not exist. We have to avoid that at all costs.

“The UK are only 60% sufficient in food; they have to import from somewhere and we are best placed in terms of their tastes; consumer requirements; and geography because we are right beside them,” he said.

Although his term as ICMSA president is up on December 19, Comer said he would be open to the prospects of a future career in politics.

“I have a passion for being able to influence situations, that would be to the betterment of our country and of our people.

I certainly wouldn’t put myself up there that I can do that in any greater capacity that anybody else; but, if an opportunity arises where I can, that’s good; but if not I’ll be happy milking cows.