Any move by the UK government to bring forward legislation to override the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol will be a “travesty” for the all-island dairy sector, according to Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) director Conor Mulvihill.
Mulvihill warned that the approximate 800m litres of milk produced on NI dairy farms which comes south of the border into the Republic of Ireland (ROI) for processing annually will have nowhere to go if the UK government continues with its intentions to renege on the protocol agreement.
He said the decision will create a “devastating” economic impact both sides of the border and an “environmental hazard”.
He also described how it is not only the flow of milk from NI to ROI for processing that will be affected, but also the movement of Irish dairy products to NI for further processing and packaging.
The Irish representative of dairy processors said overriding the protocol will leave the reputation of the island’s “symbiotic” dairy sector “shredded”.
While noting that the UK government could be playing a “game” and that it could be a while before the proposed legislative intervention by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will become law, he described how even talk or suggestion of overriding the protocol creates major implications for how those in other markets view Irish milk.
Mulvihill said that 30% to 35% of all dairy products produced in Ireland have “some element of NI or mixed product” and said it is “integral that we maintain that all-Ireland dairy economy”.
He said that in export markets abroad, milk produced on the island of Ireland, both sides of the border, is seen on an all-island basis, from “one epidemiological unit”.
In these markets, he said “food safety is number one”.
He described how it will be “very easy” for competitors from other dairy-producing countries to contrast their own food security regulation with any question of a “dual regulatory system” with ROI and NI milk.
He said such competitors will easily ask ‘that Irish stuff you’re buying, is it really Irish?’
Mulvihill said: “The European Union (EU) will not allow a dual regulatory regime. They’ve already compromised (on the protocol) in a huge way.”
The DII chief said the moves from the UK government on the NI protocol put Brexit “back to zero again”.
He said the protocol was “implemented and agreed with the British government” and that Monday’s developments in Westminster are “a joke”. He asked: “How do you have credibility in that scenario?”
“I feel like we’ve been banging our head against a wall for the last five years. To be dealing with a [UK] government that is going out with the intention of breaching an international agreement is mind boggling for us.”
Mulvihill called on the UK government to “cop on and go to the negotiating table”. He said: “The EU will not accept this double standard.”