South Down MP says direct payments must be retained beyond Brexit

Direct payments must be maintained as part of the support mechanism available to farmers in Northern Ireland beyond 2020, according to South Down Member of Parliament (MP) Margaret Ritchie.

A member of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Parliamentary Committee in London, she added that the current basic payment scheme, which is funded by the European Union, is the lifeblood of agriculture across Northern Ireland.

“Our farming industry is structured differently, compared with that which exists in other parts of the UK.

“And this means that we need a bespoke solution when it comes to supporting both our agriculture and food sectors post-Brexit.

This is why I will be arguing strongly for the retention of a direct payment support structure once the current EU funding model comes under full Whitehall scrutiny.

The current basic payment system will remain in place throughout the UK until 2020.

Meanwhile, there is a growing acceptance that the Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP will represent Northern Ireland at future Brexit negotiations; if there is no re-establishment of the Stormont Executive over the coming weeks. Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Barclay Bell said that, in light of this possibility, his organisation is forging closer links with the Northern Ireland Office.

The UFU is expected to launch its formal Brexit strategy paper at this year’s Balmoral Show, which is set to take place in about a month’s time. All of Northern Ireland farm and agri-food lobby groups have highlighted their preference of having a functional Executive operating at Stormont.

However, this week has seen Sinn Fein call for new elections in Northern Ireland. This is in light of what the party regards as the very slow pace of the ongoing negotiations, aimed at getting a devolved assembly up and running in Belfast.

If this request is acceded to, it could take at least two months before any political deal is arrived at in the North.