Northern Ireland

Industry report says Stormont should be allowed to decide on EU worker quota

Around 11,500 EU nationals currently work in food, mostly in the meat and vegetable sectors
Image caption Around 11,500 EU nationals currently work in food, mostly in the meat and vegetable sectors

Stormont should have the power to decide the number of migrants who can come to Northern Ireland to work in agri-food after the UK leaves the EU, according to an industry report.

It is one of the recommendations in a survey of major food processing companies.

Around 11,500 EU nationals currently work in food, mostly in the meat and vegetable sectors.

The Northern Ireland economy is heavily reliant on agri-food.

It is estimated to support 92,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly.

It generated £4.5bn in sales in 2014, a quarter of which was exported to EU countries, the bulk of it to the Irish Republic.

Image caption The Northern Ireland economy is heavily reliant on agri-food

The report by the Northern Ireland Food and Drinks Association was carried out to assess the implications of Brexit.

It says that, as well as setting the numbers, the responsibility for agreeing entry requirements for a "foreign labour pool" should also be devolved.

It added that if this does not happen, there is a risk some companies may relocate processing plants across the border to the Irish Republic, where free movement for EU nationals will continue.

Chair of NIFDA Declan Billington said the industry was "facing a period of great uncertainty".

He said his association was trying to help shape the plan for a post-EU market by highlighting areas of concern.

A huge amount of milk and meat crosses the border in both directions for processing.

The report, based on the responses of 39 companies, calls for a free trade agreement with Europe and the maintenance of the common travel area.

If a trade agreement proves difficult, tariff free quotas for key products should be put in place and there should be minimal disruption at the border for cross border trade, it said.

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