Northern Ireland MEP Diane Dodds has encouraged the dairy industry to “press Dublin and Brussels to work for a sensible deal” as talks between the UK and EU hit crunch point.

On Monday, the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland (DCNI) warned the sector faced a “certain doomsday scenario” should the UK leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

Chief executive Dr. Mike Johnston said that current trade tariffs for exporting both raw milk and finished product would be in excess of £300 million.

“Based on DCNI’s calculations in a no-deal Brexit, trade tariffs on both raw milk and finished products moved from NI to the EU would total £320 million, before you calculate the cost of the administrative burden customs will place on dairy processors,” he said.

“This tariff represents 25% of the value of our entire industry. In a sector where the margin is, at best, 3% or 4%, trade tariffs of that magnitude would wipe out the industry.”

Dodds said she had been working with the dairy industry and explained that businesses on both sides of the Irish border had a lot to lose.

“We are very aware of their concerns,” she said. “I have encouraged them to press Dublin and Brussels to lift their ‘not an inch’ approach to the negotiations and work constructively for a deal.

For our part, we want to see a deal. Our agri-food sector is one of the principle drivers. That’s why we supported the prime minister in placing a reasonable and fair deal on the table last week. It’s not everything of our choosing, but it is a sensible route.

“In 2016, 34% of all Irish dairy exports were destined for the UK market. The UK has already issued a very generous tariff scheme for a no-deal scenario which would ensure no tariffs between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“If the EU and Irish Government will not respond on a reciprocal basis then there needs to be equivalent tariffs on produce from the Republic of Ireland going into the UK market.”

However, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the British government should do more.

McGlone said: “Our local economy remains highly dependent on the sustainability of our agri-food sector. The future arrangements within the UK, on the island of Ireland, and with the rest of Europe will be essential to securing its continued success.

The warning from the Dairy Council that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for the local dairy industry, farming families, rural communities and our economy should come as no surprise.

“It has been pointed out consistently, by the SDLP and others, that such a scenario would be a disaster for the agri-food sector here.

“The positioning by the current British government and its enablers in the DUP means that a no-deal Brexit remains a real and present danger to the NI dairy sector.

“Any imposition of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade on the island of Ireland would threaten the jobs and livelihoods of more than 3,000 farm families across the North.

Neither the British government nor the DUP can bury their heads in the sand and ignore these concerns any longer.

“They will be directly responsible for the economic chaos that will follow a no-deal Brexit.”