Time for Tangible Solutions on the Irish Border

Publication Date: 28th November 2017

Subject: Food safety

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has today called for all parties central to the negotiations to move away from rhetoric and begin to offer some tangible solutions to the key issue of food and the Irish border following Brexit.

A workable solution to the nature of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union has been one of the 3 main aspects of the Brexit negotiations for a significant period of time, yet there appears to have been almost no attempt by the key actors to address this vital issue in a realistic or constructive way.

With progress in the Brexit negotiations and a move towards trade talks now hinging on “sufficient progress” being made on topics including the Irish border, it is essential that all parties now engage properly and outline solutions that work for both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The UK, the Republic of Ireland, and the European Union, have all publicly stated that they are committed to keeping an open, frictionless border and common travel area. But the fact remains that post Brexit, the Republic will retain its membership of the single market and the customs union, whilst the UK will effectively become a non EU member.

Whilst the UK Government has talked of “unique” arrangements, it has also apparently ruled out the UK remaining part of either the customs union or the free trade area, and is also under pressure to reject any form of “special status” for Northern Ireland separate to the UK from the DUP. This leaves very little room for manoeuvre and increases the chances of a hard border.

The cross border trade, especially in agri-food, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, whether into Northern Ireland itself or as a gateway to other regions in the UK, is significant.

Of the €4.5bn-€5bn of Irish agri-food exports going to the UK annually, approximately 80% goes to Great Britain. The figures for Northern Ireland show a similar pattern. In 2015, Northern Ireland sold £2.1bn worth of food and agricultural products to Great Britain and exports to the Republic were approximately £700m.

Currently 25 per cent of Northern Ireland’s milk pool is exported south for processing. The figure for lambs is 36 per cent. Trade in the other direction is equally significant with almost 40 per cent of the pigs produced in the Republic of Ireland sent north for processing.

The reality is that the free movement of goods and people in both directions is now an accepted part of everyday life. A failure to agree a new solution, and so avoid a hard border, could be catastrophic to the food industry, and environmental standards, across the island or Ireland.

Gary McFarlane, CIEH’s Northern Ireland Director, said:

“At present, it seems like each of the parties engaged in these discussions are in their respective corners. The UK does not seem to see Irish border as a priority, with Owen Paterson just this week dismissing the issue as overblown and minor. On the other hand, the Republic and the EU see it as a problem solely for the UK to solve, when the reality is that this is everyone’s problem.

Reverting to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be disastrous; economically, socially and politically. It is something that no one wants. Yet, without constructive solutions and flexibility, it is exactly where we could end up.

A way forward is certainly possible, but it requires the 3 stakeholders to work together and be innovative in their thinking. Clarity is essential for the agri - food industry across the island of Ireland. We need to maintain, if not further improve, our existing systems of animal welfare, food safety standards, and environmental health, which currently align with EU requirements, to have any prospect of maintaining the already significant trade in agri –food between the two parts of this island.

We call on the UK, the Republic, and the EU, to turn away from empty rhetoric on the border issue, and begin to provide some tangible details and solutions.”


Notes to editors 

1.    Food import and export statistics come from Farming UK, 6th October 2017

For enquiries, please contact Ross Matthewman, Public Affairs and PR Manager, on 02078275922 or r.matthewman@cieh.org 


About the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH):   

The CIEH is the professional voice for environmental health representing more than 9,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people's health can be improved. 

Environmental health has an important and unique contribution to make to improving public health and reducing health inequalities. The CIEH campaigns to ensure that government policy addresses the needs of communities and business in achieving and maintaining improvements to health and health protection.  

For more information visit www.cieh.org and follow the CIEH on Twitter @The_CIEH





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