Ireland needs to diversify its post-Brexit strategies, including those of the agri-food sector, so that the country is prepared for when the UK leaves the EU, Catherine Day, Former Secretary General of the European Commission, has said.

Speaking today at an RDS Economic Vision event, she said that there will be big pressure on the agriculture sector post-Brexit.

“I think the UK is going to find it to be a much tougher world outside of the EU. They’re going to have to work very hard to stay competitive. I think that one of the things they will try and do is return to a cheap food policy and probably drop standards.”

Day believes that those elements are clearly on the table and that Ireland needs to diversify our post-Brexit strategies now.

Ireland has a fantastic reputation now for food and food-related products. While it’s a big industry in Ireland, our output is still relatively small in world terms.

“I think it’s possible, if we can invest now to find markets and other outlets, to reduce the importance of the UK as a market for us.

“The UK is going to be legally part of the EU for at least two years and then de facto for quite a long time after that.

“If we act now, we have three, four, five years to change our strategy, then it can be done. We have shown time and time again that we are able to take opportunities out of crises. But it has to start now.”

“There has to a mobilisation of everyone working together, which again, is possible in a small country. If a better outcome comes from the negotiations than maybe what we’re looking at at the moment, then that would be a bonus.

“But if it comes out as hard [of a Brexit] as it could do, then at least we will be well on the way to protecting our interests.”

Day said that she doesn’t envisage the EU collapsing post-Brexit – that all of the other 27 Member States have political, geographical or historical reasons for staying together.

The UK left for many reasons. For them the EU has always been about the market. They didn’t like it when the EU developed into something else.

“I predict a more integrated EU post-Brexit and there are many challenges, such as climate change, that can’t be solved at national level”

On the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Day said that it will be the focus of detailed negotiations on the issue and that creative solutions are needed.

“We’ll have an external EU border on our island and we can’t be the weak link in that chain. So we have to face that responsibility really, that we will be protecting the EU on behalf of the EU.

“I think a hard border in the 21st century has a very different meaning from the EU that we joined in 1973.”