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Covid-19 may be allowing UK-EU trade talks to take place with less scrutiny

With the media focused on the coronavirus crisis, UK-EU trade talks are likely to take place with far less scrutiny than usual, says John Henning, County Armagh beef farmer.

Much has been written, and said, about Brexit since well before the EU referendum on June 23 2016, and sadly too much of this has been accompanied by increasing levels of nastiness.

 

So it was perhaps wishful thinking that this might end on January 31 2020 when the United Kingdom eventually left the European Union, with the lively debate continuing apace subsequently.

 

But all that changed in early March as the global Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the UK.

 

On March 23 it became a reality for many of us with the introduction of lockdown, as social isolating, travel limitations, closed businesses and furloughed workers became the norm.

 

Essential

 

While farming remained an essential industry and the food supply chain continued to operate, panic buying by consumers did cause real concern for a time.

 

But with food service seriously impacted, as restaurants and coffee shops closed, there has been a knock-on effect for farmers with reduced demand and changed consumption affecting processors and ultimately farm gate prices.

 

With the media frenzy on Covid-19 as the Government attempts to grapple with this significant challenge to both people and the economy, the ongoing debate on Brexit has taken a back seat – perhaps allowing the ongoing UK-EU trade talks to take place under less scrutiny.

 

Criticism

 

Unfortunately, much of the criticism around the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, like that directed at Brexit, is politically driven rather than focused on health or the economy.

 

If ever there was a time for consensus, then it is now.

 

In Northern Ireland, the restoration of a functioning executive last December improved the decision making process and it is now up to local politicians to deliver for the electorate.

 

Our new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development comes from a farming background, so it is hoped this will help during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and developing an agri-food industry that is well placed to deliver for farmers, processors, consumers and the environment.

 

Beating

 

While uncertainty over Brexit remains, the immediate priority has shifted to beating the pandemic, keeping people safe and getting business up and running.

 

We should all also wish Government well in the ongoing UK-EU negotiations and work together for the future of UK agriculture.

 

John can be found tweeting at @johnhenningmoo

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