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Ulster Unionist MEP warns of 'no deal' disaster

Jim Nicholson said the UK needed to remain in the Customs Union and single market

A ‘no deal Brexit' would be a “nightmare” for the agrifood industry on both sides of the border, Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has warned.

The north's longest-serving European representative, who was first elected in June 1989, advocates the UK remaining in the Customs Union and single market.

But Northern Ireland Office minister Chloe Smith confirmed to the Ulster Unionist conference that Britain is leaving the single market and customs union.

“Not least so we can strike exciting new trade deals across the globe,” she said.

“At the same, however, we recognise the need for specific solutions to the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.”

Last week a group of Tory MPs, including former secretary of state Owen Paterson, said Theresa May should to prepare to walk away from the EU negotiations without a deal.

In a letter to the prime minister, they said operating on World Trade Organisation rules from 2019 would help Britain “crystallise the economic opportunities” of Brexit.

But the pro-Remain Ulster Unionist MEP, who addressed a Brexit-themed fringe event at Saturday's party conference in Armagh, said the UK's vote to leave the EU was “going to be more difficult for Northern Ireland than any other region or devolved part of the UK”.

Mr Nicholson believes the referendum result was a bad decision:

“But when you're a democrat you've no alternative but to accept the decision of the majority,” he said.

He believes not enough consideration was given to the north's circumstances ahead of last year's referendum, however, he does not think there should be a second referendum.

“I think the solution is built into the Customs Union, the single market, and trade negotiations,” he told The Irish News.

“The consequences of no deal would be massive for our neighbours in the Republic. Milk and that lambs that go south, pigs that come north – it would be nightmare for the agrifood businesses on both sides of the border.”

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