Northern Ireland

EU referendum: About 300 attend Ulster Farmers' Union debate

Audience members vote in a straw poll at the end of the debate
Image caption Audience members voted in a straw poll at the end of the referendum debate

About 300 Northern Ireland farmers have attended a debate on the EU referendum organised by the Ulster Farmers' Union.

They gathered at the Eikon Complex near Lisburn in County Antrim to hear pro- and anti-EU arguments.

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson and former National Farmers' Union president Sir Peter Kendall were on the debate panel.

A straw poll at the end of the debate showed an audience majority favour a vote for the UK to leave the EU.

Exports

A referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU will be held on 23 June.

Earlier, Mr Paterson said the government would match EU subsidy levels after a Leave vote, but the money would be spent in a much more targeted away.

In response, Sir Peter told those attending that government policy was to phase out subsidies and farmers could be "disastrously disadvantaged".

Image caption Sir Peter Kendall and Owen Paterson went head to head in the UFU debate

Mr Paterson said it would be in the EU's interests to cut a trade deal with the UK because many jobs in the union depended on exports to the UK.

But Sir Peter said Mr Paterson was "just wrong" on trade deals, which were hard to conclude.

Accountability

The two men also differed fundamentally on the matter of the Irish border.

Mr Paterson said the notion that there would be "stripy poles at the border" where a man in a "funny hat" would "stop the stagecoaches" was outdated thinking.

Sir Peter said European markets provided key markets for local produce and customs controls would lead to "lots and lots of problems".

Farmers asked questions about the commitment from a UK parliament dominated by urban MPs for farm support.

Others raised issues of sovereignty and accountability of decision making at European level.

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