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UK govt: Tariffs 'will not apply' to goods crossing border from Ireland in no-deal scenario

Border inspection posts would be needed to inspect animal products coming from outside the EU.

Image: Mariusz Smiejek/dpa via PA Images

Updated Mar 13th 2019, 8:49 AM

THE UK GOVERNMENT has announced that there will be no new checks or controls on goods moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

No import tariffs will apply to such goods in the immediate aftermath of a 29 March exit. 

A statement released this morning said the “unique social, political and economic circumstances of Northern Ireland must be reflected in any arrangements that apply in a no deal scenario”.

“This government is committed to the Belfast Agreement and to do everything in our power to ensure no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“Today we are confirming a strictly unilateral, temporary approach to checks, processes and tariffs in Northern Ireland. This would apply if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March.

“The UK government would not introduce any new checks or controls on goods at the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, including no customs requirements for nearly all goods.

“The UK temporary import tariff announced today would therefore not apply to goods crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland.

We would only apply a small number of measures strictly necessary to comply with international legal obligations, protect the biosecurity of the island of Ireland, or to avoid the highest risks to Northern Ireland businesses – but these measures would not require checks at the border.

The measures, the statement said, “do not set out the position in respect of tariffs or processes to be applied to goods moving from Northern Ireland to Ireland”.

In order to protect biosecurity on the island of Ireland, the statement said, border inspection posts would be needed to inspect animals and animal products from countries outside the EU entering the North. 

Tariffs for the rest of the UK

While there will be no tariffs imposed by the UK on goods moving across the land border into Northern Ireland, tariffs will also not be applied to around 87% – up from 80% at present – of imports in a no-deal Brexit to the rest of the UK under a temporary scheme. 

The tariffs on various goods where they will be applied are presented by the UK government as a percentage of the “most favoured nation” (MFN) – this is the tariff imposed by the EU on imports from countries that they do not have a free trade agreement with.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it will become one of these countries. Currently, no tariffs are paid on the import of goods from Ireland into mainland UK, for example, but that would change in a no-deal.

Tariffs will apply to goods such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy products. This will help to “support farmers and producers who have historically been protected through high EU tariffs”, the Guardian reported.

In the case of beef, for example, the tariff imposed will be 53% of this MFN. The tariff applied to butter will be 32% of the EU MFN, poultry meat will be 60% and lamb will be the full existing EU MFN tariff rate. 

Other products that will remain subject to tariffs are finished vehicles, certain ceramics, fertilisers and fuel, and bananas, raw cane sugar and certain kinds of fish. 

“If we leave without a deal, we will set the majority of our import tariffs to zero, whilst maintaining tariffs for the most sensitive industries,” UK Trade Policy Minister George Hollingbery said.

This balanced approach will help to support British jobs and avoid potential price spikes that would hit the poorest households the hardest.

Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy said that the beef industry, in particular, “will not survive the kind of tariffs being talked about”, given how much is exported from Ireland to mainland UK.

“We export over 50% of our beef to the UK.  If this is subject to tariffs, it will be a ‘direct hit’ of almost €800m on the sector,” he said. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee agreed a no-deal would be disastrous for Irish farmers.

She said that it was up to the UK now to ensure that it had solutions in place to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

“We have always said we would need to have very difficult conversations,” she said. “We need to have those now. We need to avoid getting to the point where there would be any imposition of tariffs.

The onus is on the UK to come forward with its own solutions… It doesn’t present a good picture for Ireland, or for the UK either.

No deal vote

The announcement comes as MPs prepare to vote later today on whether the country should leave the EU without a deal in just over two weeks. The House of Commons overwhelmingly rejecting a draft divorce agreement last night. 

Last night’s vote came in the wake of last-minute measures announced on Monday night by British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Speaking immediately after the vote, May told MPs that the government would now hold a debate and vote today on whether the UK should leave without a deal. 

If a no-deal option is voted down tonight, the government is planning another Commons vote tomorrow on whether or not they want an extension to Article 50. That will only happen in the event that today’s vote shows support for a deal. 

However, May last night warned that “voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face”. 

- With reporting from Daragh Brophy, Seán Murray

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