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‘Of course I am worried about Brexit, but it's business as usual’ - Fergus Ewing

Despite ongoing Brexit uncertainty, Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing is keen to stress it is business as usual as much as possible.

He was at United Auctions’ Stirling mart on Wednesday partly to herald the transfer of the first tranche of 2018 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments into farmers bank accounts.

 

But he was also there to assure farmers, hauliers and mart staff that he was ’concentrating on his responsibilities’ rather than becoming caught up in the political morass of Brexit.

 

The Rural Economy Secretary said: “Of course I am worried about it. We could only be eight days from the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit.

 

"Three month extension would be preferable in the first instance but I would really like to see us remain in the EU or at least take a Brexit-lite approach which would see us remain in the customs union and the single market. That way we would not lose our ability to export.”

 

Mr Ewing spent time round the ringside on what to the casual observer was a normal store cattle sale.


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The entry of about 2,000 cattle was typical of this time of year for the centre but the buyers were having to show more grit than usual. The stores they were buying were in many cases replacing finishing cattle which had been sold at a loss.

 

George Purves, managing director at United Auctions, said: “The buyers are having to keep buying if they want to stay in the system but it is affecting the price. The problem is the country is saturated with beef flooding in from the Republic of Ireland ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit.

 

Irish farmers have asked the EU for compensation if their markets collapse but there is a lot of uncertainty.

 

Mr Purves was not as pessimistic as some about the prime sheep market in the short term. “There is a shortage of sheep and I think we are far enough through the season for everything to find a home in the UK market if it has to.”

In the meantime at least some farmers would go home to find their BPS payment had arrived.

 

About £300m of BPS payments will be made to 18,000 claimants but 78 per cent of those eligible will have already received up to 90 per cent of their entitlement through a Government loan scheme. The 10 per cent balance will be welcome nonetheless.

 

Asked how negotiations with Mr Gove were proceeding Mr Ewing smiled and said: “He never writes, he never phones.”

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