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Brexit saga is “far from over”, warns NFUS president

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said the EU Commission’s door on negotiations with the UK appears “firmly and frustratingly closed”.

After attending his first Copa-Cogeca meeting, during which he spoke with European Commission officials, NFUS president Mr Kennedy said he was left in no doubt that the commission “wants us to feel pain from leaving the EU”.

Copa represents all European farming unions, while Cogeca represents European faming cooperatives. While the UK has left the EU, Mr Kennedy said the UK unions felt it important to keep their place at the Copa-Cogeca table.

“What was blatantly obvious, given the response from the commission to questions, was Brexit was a UK decision therefore the UK will have to face the consequences for any friction in trade or checks,” he said.

“The tone of the conversation was incredible, despite calls for discussion and dialogue to try and resolve some of the serious issues we are facing right now.”

Topics of discussion included economically important trade matters for Scotland, such as seed potato exports and live animal trade with Northern Ireland. “In short, the door was firmly closed in our face,” he added – despite calls from other EU farming unions who are deeply concerned about their exports to the UK after January next year.

“I have to say the tone left me in no doubt that the European Commission wants us to feel pain from leaving the EU. I also have no doubt that this is to show other member states that leaving the EU is a bad idea, as I’m sure it is concerned about others who may consider leaving the EU.”

Mr Kennedy said he was particularly frustrated by assertions that the UK has already diverged from some of the EU’s standards.

“This is not the case. This is political. Now we are out of the EU it seems some people want to ensure we suffer from our decision to leave.

“It also said that, due to the lack of dynamic alignment, friction free trade could not be achieved so we will have simply to accept the consequences,” he added.

“If we had dynamic alignment with the EU then there would be no point in Brexit at all because if there was a rule or legal change in the EU, we would have to follow suit, so I can understand the UK’s stance on this.”

The trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) already in place allows trade if there is no significant change in production standards, but Mr Kennedy believes politics is stopping this trade from continuing.

“It’s ironic really. The very reason we have had such a good trade relationship with the EU on products such as seed potatoes is because of our exceptionally high health status, so if anyone is diverging from standards it’s certainly not us,” he said.

“Our focus now must be to ensure the UK government does not allow the January 2022 date for physical checks on export health certificates and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) to slip further back.

“Asymmetrical trade is bad enough, but asymmetrical friction means there’s nothing at the minute to bring the commission to the table as products coming in here from the EU continue to do so pretty much friction free.”

My Kennedy believes that once businesses in Europe realise the delays and costs being seen in the UK, there will be lobbying from the industry on the EU side.

“The EU are certainly making things difficult for us right now and until they find it equally as challenging there will be no change.”

NFUS will therefore continue to lobby the UK government to put in place reciprocal trading arrangements on time.

“The issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol are equally as fractious,” he added.

“I just hope they see sense quickly and recognise that trade is something that not only benefits countries economically but also helps in terms of good relationships between neighbours.”

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