The UFU – the dog that didn’t bark (yet)

Brexit is still on everyone’s mind at the moment, and not surprisingly. We are well into October, the month when we were told that final decisions would be made between the UK and the EU, yet the word is that the deadline will be extended into November and maybe even later. Why is that? The border. Or to be more exact, the backstop.

Sometimes all I can do is goggle at the gall of Britain. In December, Theresa May agreed to a statement establishing the backstop: that is, regardless of negotiations or other matters between the UK and the EU, there would be no change in the manner in which trade in Ireland is allowed to flow freely from north to south and vice versa. But since that time, the British prime minister has been back-pedalling, claiming a different interpretation of the backstop statement, defiantly declaring that no British prime minister could agree to a border in the Irish Sea since that would destabilize the UK, maybe lead to its fracturing. The DUP has agreed loudly, as well they might, since they’re probably the reason Theresa May is making these we-must-defend-the-integrity-of-the-UK noises. (Mind you, in her haste to pull on her dancing shoes and pirouette to the DUP tune, Theresa May has perhaps forgotten Scotland and its disgust at the thought of being dragged out of the EU.)

For some, the puzzling thing has been the virtual silence of organisations like the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) to speak up. That’s because they have two fears, and one is muffling the other.

The UFU consists of farmers whose livelihood would be at risk and in some cases mortally damaged in a post-Brexit situation. But the only thing the UFU fears more than Brexit is that it may damage the party which, by and large, its members vote for : the DUP.

However, one agri-business company has now spoken out. Trevor Lockhart heads up the Fane Valley company. He says he’s concerned about the “blood-red lines” squabble between the DUP and Sinn Féin. “On Brexit, the politics overtook the economics quite some time ago now. I think that is much to the disappointment and frustration of business.”

Some 50% of Fane Valley factories are manned by EU immigrants. With the dark cloud of Brexit growing thicker each day, the company is losing 4% of its workforce every month. Mr Lockhart says he understand why some business people are reluctant to get into the Brexit debate, but he’s got to the point where he feels he must speak out:

“The ideal outcome from a NI perspective was that the UK as a whole would remain in the customs union with Europe, and that we would have a strong partnership with Europe from the perspective of the single market”.

Translated, that means “I wish to God we’d never been caught up in Brexit. What kind of idiots are pushing for this economic disaster?”

In all his comments, Mr Lockhart takes care to talk about the two bickering parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – rather than facing up to the fact that the DUP is in favour of Brexit while Sinn Féin is opposed. That’s why organisations like the UFU have been keeping quiet: the risk to their livelihoods is wrestling with their loyalty to the DUP, and so far a reluctance to denounce the DUP has won out. The same might be said of business generally in the north: better than anyone they know the damage a hard Brexit will pose, but still they keep schtum – or like Mr Lockhart, blame both parties.

It’s hard not to despair at such blind loyalty to a party that is leading the charge for Brexit. If businesses of all kinds in the north of Ireland were to come out and demand that the DUP stop engaging in activities that will bludgeon business in the north of Ireland half-dead, it’s possible the DUP would have a Road-to-Damascus rethink and demand from Theresa May a return to political sanity.

It’s time businesses of all kinds came into the open. They know which  party in the north is ardently pro-Brexit, and they know that its implementation thus far is a pig’s breakfast. If they don’t stand up and name the guilty party, they’ll be like a householder who knows a violent criminal is at the door but isn’t prepared to raise the alarm.

It’s called self-harm, guys. Put back your heads and yell. Quickly.






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