Brexit Catch 22 over exports to Northern Ireland

The Scottish government has stepped in to try to resolve a Brexit ‘Catch 22’ situation which is set to see thousands of breeding sheep destined for homes in Northern Ireland yet currently grazing in Scotland trapped by bureaucracy and unable to move across the Irish Sea.

Under current regulations breeding sheep have to be over a year old and tested for the disease Maedi Visna before they can cross to Northern Ireland, a condition which would normally have been routinely fulfilled in spring of next year.

However, once the Brexit transition finishes at the end of this year additional disease assurances will be required on the Scrapie status of animals exported from the UK to the EU – and, in a Joseph Heller twist, under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol these requirements will also have to be met for sheep going there.

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In recent years the chief trade has been in Scottish Blackface ewe lambs which are ideally suited to both the climate and the geography on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Yesterday Scotland’s rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing wrote to Defra Secretary George Eustice,asking him to work with the European Commission to find a way to get round the problem, saying farmers had not been made adequately aware of the demands of the NI protocol.

“A negotiated solution to the new conditions for trade between Scotland and NI or the EU has not been forthcoming,” he said - and despite the Scottish Government making a number of suggestions to mitigate problems with exporting sheep to Northern Ireland, he claimed they had not been taken on board by the UK.

“With only weeks before the end of the transition, the UK government needs to urgently acknowledge the problems they’re creating for Scotland’s farmers – and address them before it’s too late.”

“At this late stage in the UK Government’s plans for EU Exit it is astounding that no scheme is in place to protect this and other vital trade with Northern Ireland.”

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “We are aware of concerns around the potential disruption to the movement of high value breeding sheep between Scotland and Northern Ireland from the beginning of next year, after transition.”

He said he had spoken directly with the Cabinet Secretary about these concerns earlier this week and welcomed the move to pressurise Defra to look towards a solution.

“Movements between farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland are part of an integrated production system and should not be facing the same barriers that would be in place for exports,” said McCornick.

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“NFU Scotland remains adamant that the UK and European Union must achieve a deal which results in minimal disruption to trade flows.”

He said the imposition of disruptive non-tariff barriers to trade between Scotland and Northern Ireland would have serious implications for all Scottish sheep breeders who supply this trade.

“This isn’t just about trade barriers, but the difficulties that will be created around export health certification and scrapie monitoring.”