Gove discussions 'constructive and reassuring' says UFU

UFU president Barclay Bell with Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove

ULSTER Farmers' Union president Barclay Bell has described a meeting with Britain's DEFRA secretary Michael Gove as 'constructive and reassuring' - and said he was hopeful the minister's vision of a 'green Brexit' would deliver quality food production and environmental stewardship from family farms.

Mr Bell said: “Since the referendum we've been impatient to see progress at Westminster. But I'm now more hopeful there is a commitment to deliver a vibrant farming industry and a well-managed countryside. We finally have something from which we can work with others to build a successful future for agriculture.”

In their discussions they had stressed the importance of a policy that reflected the regional differences across the UK.

“Farming here already delivers for the environment and we underlined the importance of recognising this in the new support arrangements,” said Mr Bell.

He added that he was encouraged Mr Gove accepted the need to continue supporting agriculture after the commitment to maintain support for the term of this parliament ends.

“We also made clear the importance of maintaining aid at the present level here, rather than basing it on some new UK-wide formula.”

Mr Bell said there was recognition by Mr Gove that farming was not just about maintaining the countryside but that the industry was the basis of the UK's successful and internationally competitive food industry.

“We were encouraged that he recognised the importance of tariff free access to the EU-27 and of maintaining trade across the border here. He is someone who has always been committed to Brexit – but I believe he recognises the commercial realities of not building tariff walls to make business more difficult.

"We were also encouraged that he accepts the importance of ensuring that our products are not undermined by lower standard imports and that there would be a pragmatic approach taken to ensure a smooth transition to any new trade arrangements. All of these are vital here – and are points we stressed in our discussions,” the president added.

Mr Bell added it was also important to remember the Brexit discussions were a marathon and not a sprint, and that there was a long way to go before farmers could be fully reassured about the future.

“However we now have some thoughts on the table. We have something to build on, and I am now more encouraged that we will end up with a new policy tailored to the needs not only of UK agriculture, but of agriculture in the regions.”

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