Should Ireland have a dedicated Brexit minister?

A farmer survey that was carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes and published in yesterday’s Irish Examiner in association with the ICMSA (Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association), was highlighted by the President of the ICMSA, John Comer.

The ICMSA/Irish Examiner survey showed that the majority of farmers questioned were in favour of a dedicated Brexit minister.

Comer noted that the survey demonstrated the very real anxieties felt within farming circles Brexit was concerned, and the influence that Ireland – as opposed to the other member states – can have.

The president said that the ICMSA has repeatedly called for Ireland to state that the preservation of our centuries old, multi-billion euro food trade with the UK is a national strategic objective; he added that its preservation on a continued tariff-free basis is, likewise, non-negotiable.

Comer said that all parties have to understand that that is what Ireland has enjoyed – and earned – and that is what we intend to keep.

That has to be – not the maximum we aim for – but the minimum we will accept.

“In fairness to the Irish government, we think that it has been resolute and decisive in setting out our position and making it clear to the other parties that it is not up to us to come forward with solutions to problems that we neither created nor wanted.

“We think that the UK likewise has signalled that its preference is for a continuation of the present system of farm and food trade between Ireland, the North and the rest of the UK.

“The problem – and we cannot be complacent and pretend that it’s most unlikely to occur – is where another member state (or states) decides that the way for it to secure, say, Freedom of Movement to the UK for its citizens is to, in a sense, ‘hold hostage’ our tariff-free farming and food trade with the UK.”

The president said that such a move would be designed to make sure of our support in negotiating.

This places our food trade with the UK in with all the other issues under the old ‘nothing is agreed till everything is agreed’ rule, whereas the ICMSA and Irish farmers generally want the continuation of our food trade with the UK on its present basis to be the starting point – a ‘given’ – accepted by all parties.

Comer said that farmer support for a specific Brexit minister can be interpreted as a sign that farmers want this handled not as part of a portfolio like Foreign Affairs, but as a standalone issue that requires – and gets – a full ministerial focus.

“We have too much at stake and generations of Irish farmers and agri-sector employees have worked too hard to have €4.5 billion worth of exports to our traditional British markets jeopardised by our not giving this issue the absolute focus it will require.

“None of this, it goes without saying, is to take a political line or imply a criticism of Minister Coveney who is regarded as having set out Ireland’s position in a categorical and unmistakable fashion – but perhaps an appointment of a Brexit minister would send the kind of signal to the other parties as to the gravity with which we’re approaching this question,” Comer concluded.