Farmers' relief at Brexit border deal

A sign at the border in Co Louth. Picture by Mal McCann
Deborah McAleese, Press Association

Cross-border farmers from both the Remain and Leave camps have expressed relief over the Brexit deal on the Irish border.

Fermanagh farmer John Sheridan, who had planned to close his family farms amid concerns of a hard Brexit border, said they have now been granted "a stay of execution" by Friday's deal between the European Union and the UK.

"We had a lot riding on this. I was planning to advise the company, which is run by my children, to sell the stock and pull out. We have a stay of execution now.

"We had full intentions of starting the process of pulling the farms out. But now, I will certainly be saying I am happy to battle on," said Mr Sheridan, whose farms are on the south-west Fermanagh border.

"The border is all around me at a 90 degree angle. We wouldn't appreciate being held at a 90 degree angle when all our lives have been used to 360 degrees freedom.

Pro-Brexit farmer Robert Moore, who owns a beef and cereal farm on the border between Derry and Donegal, said it would have been "crazy" to put barriers up to hinder cross-border trade.

"There's a huge amount of trade that goes backwards and forwards across the border.

"Although I voted to leave, and that was primarily because I don't think the Common Agricultural Policy is delivering for agriculture, at the same time we still need to continue to trade. It is in everyone's best interests to continue to do that," said Mr Moore.

He added: "There is a huge amount of beef sold from southern Ireland into British supermarkets and we have a big market for our lamb in France for instance. Both sides would want that to continue, therefore there was always going to be a deal."

Coleraine farmer William Taylor, co-ordinator of Farmers For Action (FFA) NI group, said while he welcomed the announcement, a lot of work remained to be done.

He said that while the FFA would have preferred to have stayed in the EU, or within the customs union and single market regulatory alignment, Friday's statement of no borders "will be a good third option until we see how events play out between now and March 2019".

"Meanwhile, we expect to see Northern Ireland's politicians stepping up to the plate and getting back into Stormont immediately as there is work to be done including legislation on farm gate prices for the sake of Northern Ireland's prosperity and the certainty and sustainability for all of Northern Ireland's farming families and related industries," added Mr Taylor.

The business community has also welcomed the the Brexit deal.

"It is definitely positive news. I must say I am relieved," said Sinead McLaughlin, Chief Executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

"There are a lot of guarantees in (the deal) for businesses here in Northern Ireland regarding North/South business and East/West business, so as a business community we are relieved that we have got through phase one," said Ms McLaughlin.

She added: "I am sure the next phase will be tricky enough, but the best case scenario for us at the moment is the guarantee there will be no hard border on the island or between Ireland and the UK and that's a guarantee if all else fails."

Toni Forrester, chief executive of Letterkenny Chamber, said she "cautiously welcomed" the border commitments, but warned a lot of detail remained to be sorted.

"We welcome that it is now in writing that there will be no border, but we really need to see the detail in the next year and a half in terms of trade deals.

"I just hope the next round of negotiations works out for our border counties. The next bit around trade tariffs is probably even more important because that's how businesses will figure out what their goods will cost," she added.

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce director general John McGrane, said businesses "will be relieved by the commitment of the UK to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland by maintaining full regulatory alignment with EU single market and customs union rules".

He warned however that to provide certainty for business, the specific details of what constituted "alignment" would need to be confirmed swiftly.

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