Cattle: NI to UK Movement

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 5th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 2:15 pm, 5th October 2021

3. Dr Aiken asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what assessment has been made of the effect of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland on the movement of pedigree cattle from Northern Ireland to and from the rest of the United Kingdom. (AQO 2528/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I reiterate that the protocol is unacceptable and unworkable, as was recognised in the House yesterday, even by those who previously wanted rigorous implementation of it.

The movement of pedigree cattle is yet another example of how the protocol disadvantages Northern Ireland farmers. The movement of livestock, including pedigree cattle, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain for agricultural shows, sales or exhibitions is a long-standing tradition for local farmers and breeders, and it provides an opportunity to access markets and demonstrate the quality of our specimens and bloodlines, which are internationally recognised as excellent.

Since 1 January 2021, additional animal health requirements, as prescribed by European Union legislation in the protocol, have been applicable to Northern Ireland livestock returning to Northern Ireland following a temporary movement to Great Britain. Since then, it appears that cattle movements for breeding and production purposes from Great Britain to Northern Ireland from January to September have decreased by about a third when compared with 2020. That may well be related to the new animal health requirements, such as the residency period.

I am completely opposed to any additional requirements for the re-entry of livestock to Northern Ireland from Great Britain under the Northern Ireland protocol and firmly believe that they place our farmers and breeders, including pedigree breeders, in a disadvantaged position while negatively affecting their livelihood and business. For that reason, I have already written on a number of occasions to Maroš Šefcovic, the vice president of the European Union, and to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to highlight the burden that the new requirements impose on our local industry. I continue to make representations to the EU Commission and to the UK Government, urging them to find long-term, sensible solutions that take into account the actual biosecurity risk to the EU single market, and I continue to make representations on the position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK. I also recently took the opportunity to stress once again the difficulties that the Northern Ireland protocol is having on our livestock breeding sector when I met George Eustice and Lord Frost at the Balmoral show. My officials continue to engage with EU officials and with their counterparts in DEFRA to seek a solution.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Minister for his remarks so far. Minister, what you describe sounds very much like a diversion of trade. Will you explain how that could possibly be seen by anybody in the House as the best of both worlds?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I cannot see how it is the best of both worlds. I see how we could have the best of both worlds, but this is not it, it cannot be it and it will not be it. Therefore, I encourage colleagues from the other side of the House to recognise that and to start to work in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland, irrespective of their views on Brexit. We are now in the circumstance that we are in today. The protocol applies, and it is causing misery to this sector and to a whole series of other sectors.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

If the Minister is unable to do anything about this other than make representations, does it not demonstrate the tyranny of the protocol and his folly in respect of an issue that he could do something about: continuing to implement the checks that keep the iniquitous protocol alive?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member talks about folly, and, for quite a number of years, he has decried the House and the Northern Ireland Executive. If we do away with the House and the Northern Ireland Executive, we then take our executive authority from Westminster.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

You had better tell Jeffrey.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I remind the Member —

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

You had better tell Jeffrey.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I remind the Member that this is Westminster policy, not Northern Ireland Executive policy. This is Westminster policy that has been imposed on Northern Ireland, and the Member knows that very well because he tested it in court, where he lost his case.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

You are coordinating the checks.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I also remind the Member —

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Order, Members.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We will not win this battle by going on the streets, by violence or by anything else. We will win this battle by good politics, and that is what I have engaged in: good politics. If we win this battle, it will be through qualitative politics, not through people shouting and carping from the sidelines.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

The Minister will be aware that this has come about because Britain diverged from EU regulations and rules. Will he agree that the best way to resolve the situation and get the best of both worlds is through a veterinary agreement that aligns the UK and the EU?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Again, the Member seems to whitewash actual fact. The protocol was to have been about protecting the single market, so perhaps the Member, when he is on his feet and has the opportunity — he will not have the opportunity now — can enlighten us as to what danger is caused to the European Union single market for a breeder to take a bull or a heifer to Scotland to sell and, if it does not sell, to bring it back home again and sell it in the Northern Ireland market. Maybe the Member, who is Chair of the Agriculture Committee, is not aware of this, but our animals are tagged at birth, and they are followed right through. As a result of the protocol, we now have a situation where animals coming from Britain to Northern Ireland have their tags removed, which is absolutely ridiculous. We have animals that have had the same tag from birth, and the protocol demands that tags are removed in the name of protecting the single market. I have never heard of anything so ridiculous.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

What is the Minister's opinion of Lord Frost? Lord Frost is currently attacking what Lord Frost negotiated months after Lord Frost praised what Lord Frost negotiated: the protocol.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I commend the fella — Mr McGlone, I should say — on getting the name right today. Yesterday, I think he called him "some fella". I commend him. It is always good to be respectful and courteous about people even when you disagree with their point of view.

I have engaged with Lord Frost on a number of occasions. I hope that Lord Frost has taken on board the issues that I have raised with him and that he will make those recommendations that will lead us to a much better circumstance than we are currently in. The Command Paper was a significant demonstration that the UK Government are getting the arguments that the DUP, in the main — not alone, but in the main — is putting on the table. I trust that the Command Paper will be followed through into actions that will lead us to a circumstance where we do not have trade barriers. It is not logical to put a barrier between you and the place where 65% of your imports come from. As for the Members on the other side of the House, who called for the protocol and its rigorous implementation, I can understand that they feel a little foolish at this point.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

Minister, in an answer to a previous question, you referred to pedigree transfers across the Irish sea. What issues with sheep imports and movement is your Department aware of? Obviously, there are now a lot of sales in Northern England and Scotland, and that will incur issues.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

My vets have been engaging extensively on that issue. We were hopeful of a resolution by now. A resolution for veterinary issues is on the table; it is now up to politicians to decide to go with that. However, the impact is that 97% of the previous imports are not happening. We have only 3% of the sheep coming in that we had before the protocol. That is having a severe impact on areas, such as the glens of Antrim and the Sperrins, that rely heavily on imports of high-quality Scottish, blackface sheep. They also sell their high-quality blackface sheep to farmers in Scotland. Given the numbers that are involved, it is important for that exchange of bloodlines to take place to ensure that the quality that has been established can be maintained.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I call Kellie Armstrong. It is unlikely that there will be time for a supplementary question.