A post-Brexit no-deal scenario is still on the cards, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has said it will walk away from talks in June if no progress has been made.
CIEH said that the stance the UK Government is taking is creating obstacles and “red lines for negotiations” that could cause talks with the EU to quickly collapse.
CIEH Northern Ireland director Gary McFarlane has warned that walking away from the talks would lead the UK back to “in effect a no-deal scenario” with all the questions and concerns about the Northern Irish border, trade and our country's food supply.
CIEH is urging the government to do everything in its power to obtain a mutually beneficial trade deal with the EU while maintaining high food and environmental standards.
McFarlane added: “If we walk away from talks in June we will be left with only the terms of the withdrawal agreement and the non-binding political declaration, effectively committing us to very little.
“This would almost certainly lead to the death of the ‘frictionless’ trade deal between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that the government keeps promising, as it would mean that Great Britain would revert to third country status and rules while Northern Ireland would remain within the single market and customs union under the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
“The reality of this scenario is checks on all food and goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“The idea that the UK can diverge on standards and still have full access to the EU market is questionable. Ultimately, we will have to maintain our own standards that are at least equivalent to those of the EU if we want to continue to trade with the EU in agri-food.”
Meanwhile, food and farming charity Sustain has warned that the “meagre gains” of any US trade deal will be wiped out if the government fails to secure a trade agreement with Europe.
The charity said the government’s published negotiating objectives for a future US trade deal contained “worrying signs” for food and farming. While achieving its stated aims of increasing trade between the two countries by £15.3bn, this would only boost the UK economy by 0.2% GDP. However, the prime minister's proposal with the EU could result in a potential drop in GDP of between 2.3% and 7% per person.
Sustain has warned against relaxing standards to do a deal with the US. Chief executive Kath Dalmeny said: “To the casual reader the UK negotiating document appears to commit to food imports that meet British standards.” Closer reading, however, shows the document does not in issues that are important to UK consumers such as animal welfare and the environment. Even more alarming is the admission that the deal could increase the intensive use of chemicals and increase threats to biodiversity.
"The document shows that the UK is performing better than other developed countries on environmental measures – with the notable exceptions of forestry and fishing. The US, on the other hand, is underperforming on seven measures including biodiversity, climate, water usage and air pollution.
"British consumers will be appalled at the prospect of our standards being sacrificed in exchange for a deal with the US.”