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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    Stormont

    That's all the action from Stormont for today.

    We'll be back at 10:00 tomorrow for a meeting of the Agriculture Committee when the members will be considering Green Party leader Clare Bailey's Climate Change Bill.

    In the afternoon, the Justice Committee will consider proposals for the establishment of a Victims of Crime Commissioner for Northern Ireland.

    Do join us then, and in the meantime enjoy your evening.

  2. Committee meeting concludes

    Steve Aiken

    Committee Chair Steve Aiken thanks the Ulster Farmers’ Union officials for attending this afternoon’s meeting.

    The Ulster Unionist MLA directs his committee colleagues through a number of items of correspondence and business before bringing the session to a close.

  3. 'Some level of despair'

    Philip McGuigan

    Philip McGuigan of Sinn Féin notes that the two union officials were present at a recent meeting with European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovi and asks if they feel their voice is being heard.

    He's particularly interested in a problem hill farmers in his North Antrim constituency are having with regard to the importation of black-faced sheep.

    David Brown says he was probably much more optimistic about the issue in January.

    He says the fact that it hasn't been resolved eight or nine months later "leads me to some level of despair".

  4. 'A political decision at the end of the day'

    Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister asks what differences there are between the standards of food in the UK compared to those in the EU?

    David Brown says as of 1 January “absolutely none”, adding that nine months down the line “they have not diverged yet”.

    Jim Allister

    “So what we are suffering is the consequence of an ideological purism from the EU?” queries Mr Allister.

    Mr Brown replies that “we’re checking stuff that is being consumed and used in Northern Ireland at a whim, it is a political decision at the end of the day”.

  5. 'Extremely short notice'

    Maolíosa McHugh

    Maolíosa McHugh of Sinn Féin says people are always inclined to identify with the negatives rather than the positives.

    David Brown of the UFU says that the biggest difficulty faced by the food processing industry was the extremely short notice they faced.

    He adds that they have found a way of working through the paperwork and documentation.

  6. 'Pot of money is only guaranteed to 2024'

    Jemma Dolan

    Sinn Féin’s Jemma Dolan asks how replacement Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) funding is going to work.

    David Brown responds that the British Government and Boris Johnson said that “they would provide the devolved regions with the same pot of money”.

    The Ulster Farmers’ Union rep adds that “the pot of money is only guaranteed to 2024”.

  7. NI farmers 'can't hold out pricewise'

    Keith Buchanan

    Keith Buchanan of the DUP asks where the agricultural industry is going to be "in another 12 months if some of these things are not implemented".

    David Brown gives an example from the field of genetics and the prices paid for pedigree bulls and rams.

    He says a breeder of Charolais bulls who regularly travelled to autumn sales in GB told him "I can't risk going over there" because dealers know NI farmers "can't hold out pricewise".

    "It will, over time, have a very detrimental impact of the genetic ability of our farmers," Mr Brown adds.

  8. 'A complete and utter nightmare'

    Matthew O’Toole

    SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole asks about SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) checks.

    “We went through a process when there were discussions around the potential for a Brexit that would basically mean that lorries and the milk coming off those lorries would have to be checked at eight points,” responds David Brown.

    The Ulster Farmers’ Union official adds that “SPS checks between GB and NI have turned out to be a complete and utter nightmare”.

  9. 'Stability, certainty and simplification'

    James McCluggage

    Another UFU official, James McCluggage picks up the briefing baton.

    He says the union is interested in "stability, certainty, simplification and looking at the costs".

    Mr McCluggage says a veterinary agreement "could remove up to 80% of checks" and would help the agri-food industry.

    "We need the UK government to find UK solutions," the union official adds.

  10. 'Sheep remain stuck in Scotland nine months later'

    David Brown

    David Brown kicks off the briefing.

    The Ulster Farmers’ Union official relays the experience of one NI farmer who bought 400 sheep in Scotland, but “remain stuck in Scotland nine months later”.

    “He has reached a point where he has no option” other than to “return them to the market place in GB because he cannot get them into Northern Ireland”,” adds Mr Brown.

    He then outlines some of the issues surrounding plants, fertilisers and transportation of milk.

    “Issues which exist from 1 January still exist,” he explains adding that farmers were hopeful there would be further negotiation and flexibility.

  11. 'Never worked under pressure or stress like it before'

    Steve Aiken, the chair of the committee, refers to written evidence which members received prior to today’s meeting in which one of the haulage representatives declared that they “had never worked under pressure or stress like it before”.

    He thanks the representatives for their hard work and places on record a tribute to their efforts before inviting them to leave the session.

    Steve Aiken

    MLAs stick with the issue of the NI Protocol and welcome officials from the Ulster Farmers' Union.

    • David Brown, Ulster Farmers' Union
    • James McCluggage, Ulster Farmers' Union
  12. 'It's the result of the hard Brexit'

    Philip McGuigan

    Sinn Féin's Philip McGuigan joins by video link.

    He says that what we're hearing about today is not just the result of Brexit: "It's the result of the hard Brexit forced upon the people of the North, who didn't support any kind of Brexit, by Jim Allister of the TUV, and the DUP."

  13. HGV drivers 'now paid more than lawyers'

    Jemma Dolan

    Jemma Dolan of Sinn Féin asks the road haulier officials about the “pay and conditions” which drivers endure.

    What's their experience?

    John Martin responds “that there has been an issue in the past” in relation to availability of services etc.

    “HGV drivers rates of pay are now rising to the extent that they are now paid more than lawyers,” he adds.

    “The haulage sector was generally undervalued by everyone,” says Mr Martin, adding that it changed “partly as a consequence of Covid and partly due to a lack of drivers”.

  14. NI will become 'a backwater'

    Keith Buchanan

    Keith Buchanan of the DUP asks the witnesses what difference it would make to their businesses if the grace periods ended today.

    Geoff Potter of Gray and Adams, which manufactures vehicles for the haulage industry, says "it almost becomes impossible to manufacture in NI because you simply don't know when you're going to get your product".

    He says NI will become "a backwater" for manufacturing.

  15. 'I don’t see any benefits going forward'

    Patsy McGlone

    Former businessman turned MLA, Pat Catney says the EU is “particularly concerned about the purity of its single market”.

    “The NI Protocol clearly states that it is there to protect the EU single market but it’s also there to protect the UK’s single market,” responds Mark Tait.

    The Target Transport representative adds that “I don’t see, currently, from my point of view any benefits going forward”.

    “We cannot continue to apply rules here in NI which are not being applied anywhere else in the UK,” he says, adding “the system is simply not designed for that”.

  16. 'The protocol does not protect our services'

    Matthew O'Toole

    The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole asks if the alternative without the protocol would have been no disruption.

    Peter Summerton of McCulla Ireland replies that the protocol refers to the movement of goods, "it doesn't protect us from the movement of services, so as a haulier we are treated as a GB haulier".

    "For me as a haulier the protocol does not protect our services," he adds.

    Mr O'Toole asks about the shortage of drivers, an issue which has recently been in the news.

    John Martin from the Road Haulage Association (RHA) says this has been a problem across the whole of the EU but particularly in Northern Ireland.

    He says there are a range of issues that need to be addressed in connection with this.

  17. 'We’re having to administer an awful lot of bureaucracy'

    Jim Wells

    Jim Wells, a DUP-elected MLA, asks if he’s “right in believing that 94% of goods that come from GB to NI go no further?”

    Mark Tait responds that “about 75% of freight coming from GB is for the NI market alone”.

    The Target Transport representative explains that “95% of freight coming from GB, regardless of where it goes, would not be subject to duties or tariffs anyway”.

    “The trade agreement was supposed to negate all quotas and all tariffs, so we’re having to administer an awful lot of bureaucracy to capture probably five percent of the freight that might attract duties across the border,” he adds.

  18. 'It's like importing from Brazil'

    Jim Allister

    Jim Allister of the TUV says the witnesses' evidence is "very stark and very clear".

    He blames the "absurdity" of GB being declared under the protocol to be "a third country".

    "It's like importing from Brazil rather than Bradford," the North Antrim MLA adds.

    Peter Summerton explains that prior to the protocol a major high street retailer could make an order from GB and expect delivery on Day 2, "at a push Day 3".

    He outlines the complications of the new system and the resulting delays.

    "If you take 10 days off the shelf life of most fresh produce it simply doesn't work," Mr Summerton adds.

  19. 'We were Canaries in the coal mine'

    Maolíosa McHugh

    “Do you accept that with Brexit there was always going to be additional costs?” asks Sinn Féin’s Maolíosa McHugh.

    “The additional costs we’re experiencing in NI is greater than what people in GB will be experiencing,” responds John Martin from the Road Haulage Association.

    Peter Summerton of McCulla Ireland Ltd says “Brexit was never going to be free, there were going to be some costs”.

    In response to comments about scaremongering, Mr Summerton says: “I would suggest we were Canaries in the coal mine as we were highlighting the fact that if continual pressure was put on the supply chain, then the supply chain would break.”

    “We’re being asked to do things in a time and space that nobody else can do,” he adds.

  20. 'Wrecking this distribution chain'

    Next up is Peter Summerton from McCulla Ireland, who joins by video link.

    His company operates in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

    He says that it was prepared and was clear about how the protocol would manifest itself.

    Mr Summerton explains that the company operates across a number of food sectors.

    He says the question is, "How exactly did government expect the protocol to work?"

    The businessman says the NI Protocol increases time, cost and complexity.

    Trucks

    He explains how delays are caused by sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

    This includes checks on individual pallet deliveries to restaurants.

    Mr Summerton discusses how the complexities of the system are dissuading companies from trading with NI.

    He says the system "is wrecking this distribution chain", adding that there is no upside for NI and that there are many alternatives to the protocol.