Farmers on both sides of Irish border 'in dark' over Brexit

Agriculture, food and fisheries George Eustice gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Northern Ireland farmers and businesses who trade over the Irish border are being kept in the dark about how their livelihoods will be affected post-Brexit, according to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee members.

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George Eustice, minister for agriculture, food and fisheries was taken to task by unionist MPs who flagged uncertainty over border checks, paperwork and trading policies when the UK leaves the EU.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell asked the minister if he felt the UK government had been robust enough over their stance on a hard border.

"You say the government couldn't have been clearer on its position, however it has created huge uncertainty in Northern Ireland, it has actually now become a separate issue.

"The businesses and farmers involved, the EU, the UK and Dublin all say they have stated they don't want it, so why is it still pivotal to discussions if everyone is saying they can't be clearer on this issue?"

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The minister placed blame with the EU who, he claimed, were using the border as a weapon if the UK did not want to abide by their rules.

"The EU have not been saying that; the EU have been saying unless we do exactly what they want they may put in a hard border.

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"What we can't get away from is the EU and UK have a different perspective on how you avoid hard border," he said.

It was also raised that without a Northern Ireland executive in Stormont, the department should be doing more to assist Northern Ireland's agricultural sector in the run up to leaving the UK.

It was then revealed that there is no one dedicated person in the department who focuses on Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

Lady Sylvia Herman said: "To be clear, your team - which is in charge of agriculture after Brexit, doesn't have one person looking after Northern Ireland.

"Agriculture is our main industry and we haven't had an assembly for 18 months, you don't think that could be improved a little? We are so close to D-Day."

The minister then alluded to a paper that has been developed on agriculture in Northern Ireland, however the paper was still in draft, had not been published and had only been shared with his department.

"They've chosen not to publish at the minute in Northern Ireland, as there is nervousness about publishing something without an executive in place," he said. Lady Herman replied it was a real pity that Northern Ireland's farmers were kept in the dark about the paper.

It was also revealed that food trading businesses, custom agents and exporters would have more paperwork post-Brexit, but the minister said it would not affect farmers themselves.

The minister added: "If you're a global business you will have more paperwork and potentially some cost but they will already be familiar doing this with countries outside of the EU."

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