Farmers in Northern Ireland have been given a stark warning over the “velocity” with which Brexit could hit their businesses once the UK leaves the EU.
What amounted to a major post-Brexit alert, was issued during a meeting of the Agri-Food Strategy Board in Northern Ireland, with Declan Billington, chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and managing director of the animal feed firm John Thompson & Sons, calling on the farming industry to “pull together” in order to ensure meaningful negotiations take place over Brexit.
“Brexit is the only show in town and we must embrace it,” he said. “Going forward is what we must do and do so with a game plan.”
Mr Billington’s follow-up farm sector mathematics didn’t add up to the easiest listening for delegates, however.
“Our agri-food industry in Northern Ireland turns over £4.6 billion annually and we trade £708 million with the Republic of Ireland. Another £440m is sent to the rest of the European Union and £140m sent to the rest of the world.
“This means a whopping 28% of our turnover could be subject to trading tariffs once Brexit is in force.
“If we have tariffs imposed on our produce this would potentially create massive food inflation which could see cheese prices rise by 58% and milk prices rise by 30%. Consumers would not be impressed with that at all.”
However, Mr Billington (pictured above) also said that, thanks to the important trading done with the Republic of Ireland “which puts money into London”, Northern Ireland has a strong advantage when it comes to negotiating the agri-food industry’s future with the London negotiators.
“I have a grave concern, however, and that regards the people put in post over there to negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU,” he added.
“Their knowledge of agriculture both locally and internationally is very poor. We have a chance, though, to influence their decisions and now is the time to act on that.”