In less than 24 months the EU and the UK must reach an agreement on how the UK will exit the union, but it is phase two, agreeing a new relationship with the UK post Brexit, that will determine the fortunes of Irish farmers and food producers into the future, Mairead McGuinness, MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament said on Sunday.
As a leading agri food exporting nation in the EU, Ireland has a lot of work to do to ensure our special interests in this area are fully understood and solutions found to address them.
Ahead of two speaking engagements on the topic in Ireland tomorrow Monday (24th April) she said French voters go to the polls with key contenders diametrically opposed in their positions on EU membership, “a mirror image of the divergences that exist within Prime Minister Teresa May’s Conservative party in the UK and indeed in British society, she said.
“Prime Minister May is aiming to strengthen her position but there is an opportunity for parties and citizens in the UK with concerns about Brexit to press for a clearer indication of her strategy in the Brexit negotiations. Nowhere is this more needed than in the agri food sector where UK farmers do not know beyond 2020 what is in store for them outside the EU in two key areas – UK government support for the sector and competition from global food producers,” she said.
And she said there are some indications that the tough rhetoric of the Brexit referendum has abated and it would be alarming if there was a return to that narrative during the election campaign.
“We would be foolish to think that the anti EU voices in the UK will be dampened during the campaign but we should hope that an outcome which strengthens the Prime Minister could moderate the unrealistic demands of those in the UK who believe the EU will roll over and accept whatever the UK demands.”
Ms McGuinness said the world will not stand still between now and the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations.
“Trade talks between the EU and a number of leading global partners are intensifying – ahead of Brexit and possibly because of Brexit.
“And on this sensitive area farm organisations may have to rethink their strategy of rejecting any trade deal which has the potential to impact negatively on agriculture and instead focus on ensuring that any such agreements take into account the sensitivities of specific sectors, namely beef.”
She said the fishing and agri-food sectors are areas in which Ireland has the most deeply intertwined economic relationships with Northern Ireland and the UK and the depth of their reach is unparalleled and quite unique.
“Ultimately the outcome of the Brexit process, including details of the future UK relationship with the EU, will depend on the atmosphere of the talks and the ability of both sides to put citizens’ interests first and foremost,” Ms McGuinness said.
And she said the extensive recognition of the unique position and special circumstances of the island of Ireland is part of the European Parliament’s official position, adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs.
“A soft Brexit and respectful co-operation is in the interests of Ireland, the UK and the EU,” she said.
The European Parliament must give its consent by simple majority to any Withdrawal Agreement. The European Council will review the European Parliament position before adopting the EU’s negotiating mandate at a meeting of EU leaders on April 29th.
Ms McGuinness will tomorrow (Monday) address Brexit: The Imperatives for Irish Farmers & the Agri-Food Sector hosted by the Irish Farmers Association at Goffs, Kill, Co Kildare at 12.15 and at 2.30 pm she will address the 91st Annual Conference of the Agricultural Economics Society at the RDS Dublin.