A no-deal Brexit must be avoided “at all costs”, warns CIEH director for Northern Ireland Gary McFarlane.
McFarlane said: “The suggestion that in the event of no-deal there is not going to be any great impact, and that we are prepared for this, is simply not true. All the evidence is saying that there will be lots of issues to deal with – and that Northern Ireland will be disproportionately affected.”
Without a deal, under EU rules UK companies exporting products of animal origin will need to file Export Health Certificates (EHCs). These certificates are filled in by the exporter and authorised and countersigned by a vet or an environmental health officer, who inspects the produce. Neither food businesses nor public bodies involved currently have the capacity or resources to cope with this.
To illustrate the point, McFarlane said that he is aware of one council area where 90 EHCs are needed every year to inspect fish and fishery products exported outside Europe. Under a no-deal Brexit, this number will rise to a staggering 60,000 annually.
McFarlane was speaking following the latest report from experts at the Food Research Collaboration, of which he is a part.
The collaboration’s Food Brexit Briefing Series said that NI farms and food businesses could be forced to close within days of a no-deal Brexit. Price rises, shortages, and restricted supplies, were predicted, with fruit and vegetables likely to be the worst hit – produce that we should be eating more of, not less.
No technical solution has been found to avoid a hard border, and the briefing warned that the Republic of Ireland will legally be obliged to impose border controls.
A number of measures are being called for, including the publication of the resilience plans the Government has said it has developed. As a 'matter of urgency' it argues that NI must have effective government and governance in place by 31 October at the latest, preferably through the restoration of the NI institutions, but if not, through a form of direct rule.
McFarlane added: “To leave Northern Ireland exposed to these risks without proper governance in place is irresponsible. The Government must also provide financial resources for local authorities – including hard ship funds for low income households in NI because without a deal all the evidence points to food prices going up.”