Video: On the 'Brexit frontline' with farmers in Northern Ireland
As Shadow Minister for farming, it is important for me to have a clear picture of the impact Brexit will have on farming, especially as the government’s Agriculture Bill is now being scrutinised in the House of Commons.
I spent two days last week in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland meeting farmers and representatives from the Irish government and the Northern Irish assembly to look at this in detail.
It was a full and fascinating two days, in which I covered a lot of ground both physically and politically.
It’s only when you spend time with those who are, quite literally, on the Brexit frontline, that you realise the enormity of dismantling and restructuring our integrated agricultural systems.
Seeing the now-derelict huge storage sheds near the border makes it clear just how much has been achieved, and is at stake, in these border regions.
We learnt, for instance, that the milk used to produce Baileys Irish Cream crosses the border five times during the manufacturing process.
Any semblance of a ‘hard border’ will have a devastating impact on the economy there, possibly lead to a resurgence in smuggling and organised crime, as well as the breakdown of the stability established there.
With no political administration in place in Northern Ireland, implementing a new agriculture system will be near-impossible in any case. It is not hard to imagine a situation where the EU farming system, is replaced with different regulations in Northern Ireland, the Republic, England and Scotland.
It was clear to see why remaining in a customs union is so crucial. A hard border, and a chaotic Brexit, would not only lead to fragmentation of our farming and food production but would be economically and socially destructive.