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MPs demand clarity for 'uncertain' farmers

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Questions: Gregory Campbell

Northern Ireland farmers who trade over the border are being kept in the dark about how their livelihoods will be affected post-Brexit, according to NI Affairs Committee members.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries George Eustice was taken to task by unionist MPs who flagged uncertainty over border checks, paperwork and trading policies when the UK leaves the EU.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell asked the minister if he felt the Government had been robust enough over its stance on a hard border.

"You say the Government couldn't have been clearer on its position. However it has created huge uncertainty in Northern Ireland, it has actually now become a separate issue," he said.

"The businesses and farmers involved - the EU, the UK and Dublin - all say they have stated they don't want it.

"So why is it still pivotal to discussions if everyone is saying they can't be clearer on this?"

Mr Eustice placed the blame with the EU, which he claimed was using the border as a weapon if the UK did not want to abide by its rules.

"The EU have not been saying that; the EU have been saying unless we do exactly what they want they may put in a hard border," he said.

"What we can't get away from is the EU and UK have a different perspective on how you avoid a hard border."

It was also raised that without an Executive, the department should be doing more to assist Northern Ireland's agricultural sector.

It was then revealed that there isn't a dedicated person in the department who focuses on Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

Lady Sylvia Hermon said: "To be clear, your team, which is in charge of agriculture after Brexit, doesn't have one person looking after Northern Ireland.

"Agriculture is our main industry and we haven't had an Assembly for 18 months.

"You don't think that could be improved a little? We are so close to D-Day."

Mr Eustice then alluded to a paper that has been developed on agriculture in Northern Ireland. However the paper was still in draft, had not been published and had only been shared with his department.

"They've chosen not to publish at the minute in Northern Ireland as there is nervousness about publishing something without an Executive in place," he said.

Lady Hermon said it was a real pity that farmers here are being kept in the dark about the paper.

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Questions: Gregory Campbell