'No deal' tariffs would 'crush' Northern Ireland's sheep sector

The tariff regime could seriously undermine the competiveness of Northern Ireland farmers
The tariff regime could seriously undermine the competiveness of Northern Ireland farmers

Northern Irish sheep farmers have said the creation of a new tariff regime at the border with the Republic of Ireland would 'crush' the sector.

The possibility remains of Irish products entering Northern Ireland tariff free, but products moving in the other direction facing tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The government said it recognises that Northern Ireland's farmers will have concerns about the impact its approach will have on farm businesses' competitiveness.

It said: “These are the only steps the UK government can unilaterally take to deliver on our absolute commitment to avoid a hard border in the event of no deal.”

However, the government added that there would be no controls on goods moving from RoI to Northern Ireland.

But the Northern Irish sheep sector has sounded alarm at the prospect of allowing imported sheepmeat from the RoI continued access to Northern Ireland tariff free, while applying tariffs to sheepmeat going in the other direction.

'Fragile situation'

The National Sheep Association (NSA) said the situation is 'fragile' for sheep farmers in Northern Ireland.

NSA's Northern Ireland Regional Development Officer, Edward Adamson said: “Our industry is reliant on policy makers in Westminster and in Belfast working hard to ensure protections for us are in place.

“We are already facing issues with shortages of labour in the abattoirs thanks to Brexit, and with many abattoirs being in the South and the movement of some 400,000 lambs a year going that way, we are likely to find sheep farmers in Northern Ireland will have no choice but to pay the tariffs when there is nowhere else to send the sheep.”

He added: “This would crush our industry and force many farmers out of business, an outcome which would be totally unacceptable.”

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said the government’s import tariff plans for a no-deal Brexit would 'devastate' Northern Ireland’s farming industry.

UFU president, Ivor Ferguson, said the plans are 'further proof' that a no-deal would have 'catastrophic consequences' for Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the tariff plan for Northern Ireland amounts to 'supreme irony' as it would be treated differently to the rest of Britain.