Food and farming leaders have welcomed the announcement from Number 10 that the Prime Minister has struck a Brexit deal with the EU.
The deal remains broadly the same as Theresa May’s agreement, with a transition period ending in December 2020, unless all parties agree to extend to any point until December 2022.
It does, however, include an alternative to the ‘backstop’, which would have kept the whole of the UK in a single customs territory with the EU in order to avoid checks at the Irish border.
Instead, the new plan means Northern Ireland would legally be in the UK’s customs territory – separate to the EU’s – but it would continue to apply EU rules and procedures on tariffs.
Northern Ireland, but not the rest of the UK, would also have to maintain EU food standards, such as bans on hormone-treated beef or chlorinated chicken.
This means existing checks at ports on agricultural products travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would need to be ramped up.
Other changes to the deal include giving the Stormont Assembly a chance to vote on whether to continue sharing EU rules once every four years, with 60 per cent support needed, including 40 per cent of nationalists and 40 per cent of unionists.
The DUP had demanded a majority of nationalists and unionists back maintaining the arrangements, giving them an effective veto.
Because of these concerns around consent and the fact that the new deal will increase trade barriers within the UK, the DUP has said it cannot support it ‘as things stand’.
But president of the CLA, Tim Breitmeyer, suggested news of a deal would be ‘warmly welcomed by farmers and rural businesses’.
“The proposed deal finally provides us with some certainty, that could in turn help unlock much-needed investment to get the rural economy moving again,” he said.
“Opposition MPs, many of whom have argued against a hard Brexit, should think very carefully before voting this deal down. One gets the sense it is this deal or no deal.”
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, also welcomed the news, but pointed out the Prime Minister has another battle on his hands in getting enough MPs to vote for the deal in Parliament.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has already described the agreement as a ‘sell out’ and called for a second referendum on it.
His fears appear to centre around the revised ‘political declaration’, which sets out some very broad outlines for the future relationship with the EU and allows the UK more room for divergence than Theresa May’s agreement.
The new political declaration, which is not legally binding like the withdrawal agreement, proposes a future model based on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), with zero tariffs and quotas between the UK and EU.
It also contains a watered-down version of the ‘level playing field’ measures, which used to be in the withdrawal agreement itself.
Under the terms of the new deal, the UK has flexibility on whether or not to stick to EU environmental and climate change rules, as any commitments will be ‘commensurate with the ambition of the future relationship’.
NFU president Minette Batters said it would be vital for Ministers to ensure trade with the EU remains free and frictionless as they move on to negotiating the future relationship.
She also called for standards to be maintained as new trade deals are struck with other countries.
“We have had precious little reassurances on these issues so far,” she said.
“We look to Government to be clear about its ambitions for British farming, which provides affordable, safe, home-grown food produced to some of the highest standards in the world.”