The Government should compromise on the backstop to avoid a hard Brexit, with nine out of 10 farmers concerned about the impact of the UK’s departure without a deal.
This year’s Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll of farmers and farm families found that just under half (47%) of farmers felt the Government needed to make some kind of concession to break the impasse, with governments putting plans in place for a no-deal.
The opinion poll also found 90% of respondents are concerned about the effect of Brexit on farming and 80% fear it will impact negatively on them and their families.
Half of farmers (51%) also felt the Government has kept the country in the dark over its plans to deal with Britain’s departure from the EU. However, 47% of those questioned said they believed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has done a good job in terms of handling Brexit negotiations.
Amid unprecedented parliamentary volatility in the UK over Brexit and the British government’s own deadline for leaving the EU of October 31 coming into view, younger farmers, in particular, are of the view Ireland should not be beholden to the backstop if it meant a better deal for Irish agri exports.
The poll results show 66% of those under 35 and 61% of those aged 35 to 44 are in favour of some kind of concession on the backstop in those circumstances. Those in livestock and with larger farms were also more likely to support the idea.
Following a meeting between British prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday, the European Commission said proposals to replace the backstop “have not yet been made” by Mr Johnson.
Pat McCormack, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), said the poll results were both “revealing and understandable” and reflected a nervousness around the nightmare scenario where the two primary national objectives of this country were under threat: No hard border and a continuation of centuries-old trade with Britain on a tariff-free and quota-free basis.
The ICMSA previously expressed its own view that the intense focus on the North-South dynamic has been at the expense of the economically more valuable cross-channel relationship.
Mr McCormack said that while the ICMSA had asked the Government to “rebalance the weight of consideration being given to the political over the economic”, there is no support for concessions on the backstop given the “litany of incompetence and duplicity on the part of very vocal and influential elements of the Conservative Party” in the UK.
“We know what a hard Brexit will inflict on Irish farming and food production — we noted it before anyone else — but if the extreme Brexiteers are waiting for us to beg our Government to roll over for their heedless and dangerous ends then they’ll be waiting,” said Mr McCormack.
“We have always been in favour of trying to help the UK get themselves out of the very deep hole they dug and in which they find themselves.
Kevin Hanrahan, head of Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development Programme, said the enthusiasm farmers have for granting concessions to the UK is not totally surprising.
“The current UK government has displayed no ability to actually getting anything done politically,” said Dr Hanrahan.
“So it is doubtful if any concession would actually yield any outcome that materially improves the situation.”
The poll also shows a rise this year in the proportion who strongly agree they favour a united Ireland (35%) compared with 2018 (22%).
Overall, 62% of respondents show some level of support for a united Ireland, up on the comparable figure from 2018. Support was particularly strong among tillage farmers polled (85%).