The SDLP’s Brexit spokesperson Matthew O’Toole has called for the UK Government to prioritise an SPS agreement with the EU to resolve outstanding issues on GB-NI agri-food checks, after US President Biden confirmed he would not be fulfilling Brexiter fantasies of a US-UK free trade deal.
At a meeting on Tuesday between Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, the US President again warned the British Government against taking any action that would damage the peace process and indicated that there was little chance of progress on a US free-trade agreement with Britain.
Mr O'Toole said the British Government now need to swiftly focus on smoothing trade issues with its biggest and closest market, the EU.
An SPS veterinary agreement would remove 80% of checks on animal and plant products moving between GB and NI, as well as removing administrative burdens on GB traders selling goods into the EU.
One of the biggest barriers to the UK doing an SPS deal – and one of the drivers of a hard Brexit in the years of the Trump presidency – was a Tory belief in a US trade deal, which would have necessitated a hard border between US and EU agrid-food standards.
The South Belfast MLA said:
“For years the Brexiter fantasy was of divergence from EU agri-food standards in order to do a deal with the US. Joe Biden, who also believes deeply in the Good Friday Agreement, has finally slaughtered that sacred cow of the Tory right wing. It was never going to be possible to put a hard agri-food border in the middle of the farms of Fermanagh and Monaghan, so the theoretical possibility of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef in Britain was one of the drivers of the Irish Sea border.
“Now that prospect is dead, it is time for Johnson’s government to do the most urgent thing and sign a comprehensive SPS deal with the EU to reduce the burden of agri-food checks in the Irish Sea. That will ease burdens on business and consumers but under the Protocol Northern Ireland will still have unfettered and unique access into both British and EU markets.”