Northern Ireland

Brexit: NI farmers need strategy assembly is told

Stormont
Image caption The assembly heard claims that funding agriculture was not a priority for the UK government

Northern Ireland's farmers and agri-food industry need a post-Brexit strategy to stop them "falling off the edge of a cliff" once the UK leaves the EU, the assembly has been told.

The call was made during a debate on the future funding of farming.

Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen has established a consultative committee, to inform the executive's negotiating position.

The EU contributes about £250m a year to farmers

The assembly heard claims that funding agriculture was not a priority for the UK government.

Northern Ireland currently gets 10% of the UK's European subsidy payments.

Speakers, including the SDLP's Patsy McGlone, claimed that it would not do as well under a domestic agricultural policy.

If the Barnett funding formula, which is used to calculate Northern Ireland's share of UK budgets, was applied the equivalent share would be 3%, he said.

But the DUP's Edwin Poots claimed farmers had voted "overwhelmingly" for Brexit and it offered them opportunities.

'Basic preparations'

These included displacing agricultural produce currently imported to the UK.

He said farmers did not want "handouts" but a fair return for their work.

Ulster Unionist Harold McKee said it was disappointing that the "most basic preparations weren't put in place" prior to the referendum vote.

Sinn Féin's Caoimhe Archibald claimed the signals from Westminster were "not encouraging" and the minister had "her work cut out for her".

David Ford of the Alliance Party said the chancellor's commitment to underpin direct payments for farmers until 2020 was "not much of a guarantee" given that it would be 2019 at the earliest before the UK would be in a position to leave the European Union.

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