At last weeks’ Oxford Farming Conference, Labour’s Shadow Defra Secretary Steve Reed confirmed that if the party wins the next general election it will seek to have a veterinary agreement with the EU, making it easier for food exporters in Britain to trade into Europe.

The knock-on impact is that such a deal will solve the vast majority of issues with the NI Protocol and, specifically, the need for checks on agri-food related goods moving from Britain to NI. While it would potentially clear the path for the DUP to return to Stormont, a veterinary agreement isn’t likely to happen overnight, even if both the UK and EU are willing participants. With our public services at breaking point, a prolonged stalemate at Stormont is far from ideal.

Other issues

During the rest of his Oxford speech, Steve Reed talked about issues such as food security and public procurement of food, but avoided more controversial subjects, such as badger culling to control bovine TB. He also didn’t mention future support to farmers, although, as pointed out in last week’s edition, a new Labour policy review document refers to the need for a “smaller and greener” package of measures.

Perhaps then the best we can actually hope for under any future British government is similar payments to what we have now, given that a freeze to the direct payment budget (around £300m in NI) actually represents a real terms cut when accounting for inflation.

But, as well as making the case for funding, it is also important that local farming organisations continue to point out the disparity in farm support across this island. While farmers in NI get higher area-based direct payments, farmers in the Republic of Ireland receive vastly superior support through various other schemes. Previous analysis by the Irish Farmers Journal suggests a typical beef and sheep farm in ROI is likely to receive over 30% more funding than the same farm in NI.

The playing field is already far from level, without a new Labour government making the situation worse.

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