IFA Brexit conference strikes the right note

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan made two extremely important observations during his speech to this week’s IFA Brexit conference in Co. Kildare.

He said that a transitional free-trade agreement is possible between the EU and the United Kingdom, post 2019, if London agrees to stay within the Customs’ Union. And the other – equally relevant – assertion was that national governments would have the scope to make up for the CAP funding deficit that will be created, once the UK stops committing money to Europe.

If both of these perspectives could be agreed as part of the upcoming Brexit deal then almost all of the IFA priorities for the future of Irish farming and food can be delivered upon.

Moreover, there’s little doubt that having Phil Hogan in his current job will be of tantamount importance for Ireland, as the Brexit processes unfold. By common consent, the Commissioner is doing a tremendous job in representing the interests of EU agriculture as a whole at the present time. But it is reassuring to know that when the right doors have to be opened in Brussels on behalf of Ireland’s farmers, he is there to make that happen.

I thought Joe Healy gave a truly presidential speech at the conference. It hit the right tone and conveyed the exact messages which Brussels – and London – must be made aware of, as the Brexit negotiating train prepares to leave the station.

And all of this was reflected in the genuine response he received from the hundreds of attending delegates. So well done him!

The only disappointing aspect to the day was the slightly lukewarm tone struck by Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Barclay bell. It’s obvious that the union has not worked out its final Brexit strategy position as yet. And this should be of genuine concern to every farmer in Northern Ireland.

Issues such as future cross-border trade arrangements, the level of direct support made available to active producers post 2020 and the carve-up of the UK’s future agriculture budget will have a unique and fundamental resonance north of the border. And, as yet, the UFU has not truly aired these perspectives in a meaningful way….in my opinion!