Farmers have said it is impossible to see how the Irish border can stay open and free of checkpoints under the Brexit proposals.
While the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) warned thousands of jobs are at risk in Northern Ireland, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said the British government will have to make more compromises on its ambitious international trade targets.
Some 40% of the exports south of the border are destined for a UK market.
In Northern Ireland, over 50% of agri-food produce goes to the Republic, valued at in excess of €750m.
As London published its border and customs proposals for Brexit, the IFA said it was difficult to see how goods and people could continue to move freely north and south if the UK operates a customs and trade policy separate to the EU.
“Cross-border trade in agricultural produce encompasses crucial issues such as food safety and animal health. If the UK insists on pursuing its own free trade agreements, two divergent regimes would have to operate on the island and it is impossible to see how border checks could be avoided,” said IFA president Joe Healy.
“The UK will have to compromise on their future trade ambitions with third countries in the area of agricultural and food products.”
The IFA said the idea of the UK leaving the EU customs’ union was a “hard Brexit”.
Mr Healy said a “streamlined border” option is unacceptable for farmers as it would grant the UK the right to make their own rules on imports.
“Any increase in low-cost food imports into the UK that would undermine the value of the UK market would have a devastating effect on the Irish agri-food sector. The potential displacement of Irish food exports from the UK market will in turn destabilise the EU market balance,” he said.
The IFA called for a balanced free trade agreement with the UK with no tariffs on agricultural products and food; equal standards on food safety, animal health, welfare, and the environment; and a common external tariff for agricultural and food imports to both the EU and UK.
DUP leader and former first minister Arlene Foster described the paper as a “constructive step”.
“It is clear the British government has listened to voices in Belfast, Dublin, Brussels, and London about how the United Kingdom’s only EU land border could be managed after we exit the EU,” she said.
“I welcome the commitment to a seamless border and movement of goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is also welcome news that the government will not countenance any new border in the Irish Sea.”
Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader, Michelle O’Neill, said the proposals were “big on aspiration but light on clarity”.
“I am not comforted, I don’t believe the wider public out there will be comforted from what they read today because, whilst the British government might say they don’t want to see any kind of hard border or technology put in place, it will not be within their gift to deliver that; it will be the other European member states, who clearly think and believe we need to see customs controls,” she said.
Mrs O’Neill called on the Irish Government to “defend the rights” of remain voters north of the border.
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