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Brexit / Commitments given over sheep farming after Brexit concerns raised in virtual meeting

A screenshot of the food producers' virtual roundtable meeting.

GOVERNMENT ministers have given commitments to support sheep farmers in the event of a price crash or a no deal Brexit.

Assurances have also been given around maintaining livestock exports from the Northern Isles into the UK and beyond.

The commitments were given in a virtual round table meeting held on Thursday (26 November).

UK cabinet ministers Michael Gove and George Eustice were present alongside Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael and farming representatives.

Gove and Eustice said they were making efforts to secure a trade deal with the EU and that UK food standards would not be reduced.

Speaking after the meeting, Carmichael said: “I am glad that we were able to secure this vital meeting and that isles food producers were able to secure commitments from the ministers on their concerns.

“The commitments on preserving live exports and support for lamb in the event of market disruption will be particularly crucial for isles producers.”

National Farmer’s Union regional policy advisor for Shetland Lorna Scott said it has been a record year for the sheep market in the isles, and “we need to preserve that”.

“In Shetland, we cannot diversify so easily and producing lamb is often the only option on much of our land, as well as significant to our culture, for example, producing the highest quality Shetland wool,” Scott said.

“It is very reassuring that ministers are committed to maintaining live export from the isles to the rest of the UK and beyond. Though it is a long journey, we work hard to maintain the highest possible standards in the country between Shetland, Orkney and Aberdeen.

“This journey is vital to the future viability of the entire agriculture sector in the Northern Isles.”

Liberal Democrat MP Carmichael, however, said there still needs to be more clarity for food producers ahead of the Brexit transition period concluding at the end of the year.

There are only 35 days to go until the transition period, which was implemented to allow UK-EU negotiations to take place, comes to an end.

“Exporters of salmon and other perishable goods are understandably concerned about the risks of bottlenecks in transport,” Carmichael said.

“Quotas and tariffs on exports to Europe would be enormously harmful as well if we do not secure a deal.

“A point that came up again and again was the importance of farming, crofting and aquaculture to the wider community. In the isles if opportunities disappear people cannot just commute to the next town over – they move away for good.

“If the government wants to preserve island communities then they have to follow up on today’s commitments and support our future.”

Chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation and former Shetland MSP Tavish Scott was also present in the meeting.

A representative from Shetland Food and Drink also said after the meeting: “We have spent the last few weeks in discussion with our members about their concerns regarding the very real possibility of a no deal Brexit.

“We represent over 80 members in the food and drink sector in Shetland now, and they cover a very diverse range of industry sectors, but many of the most serious concerns, as well as some of the opportunities people see post Brexit are incredibly similar.

“We were delighted to participate in this meeting and to be able to send Karl Simpson to speak on behalf of our members and give voice to those concerns in and arena where they can make an impact. Dialogue on all sides to find the best way forward from where we are now can only be a positive thing for us all.”