The UK government has been urged to "see the sheer foolishness" of its newly-proposed tariff regime in the event of a no-deal Brexit by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
Leader of the UUP Robin Swann lambasted the proposed tariffs in a statement issued today (Thursday, March 14).
“With only a matter of days now until the UK is officially meant to leave the EU I am bewildered that with every passing week senior members of the government continue to surprise me with their sheer incompetence and foolishness.
“The long-awaited revelation on Wednesday of the UK’s contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit however brought the entire saga to a new low," Swann said.
In its desperation to be seen to take the moral high ground on avoiding a hard border here, the UK government has effectively proposed turning the province into a smuggler's fantasy.
“By slapping steep tariffs on many agricultural products such as meat and dairy products between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, but leaving tariff free access between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, it’s blatantly obvious what will happen," Swann warned.
“In theory the new tariff regime could mean better prices for producers as EU imports to Britain will become more expensive, but in reality I suspect Northern Ireland will very quickly become a gateway into the UK from the EU for much of its produce."
The party leader questioned why any producer from the south, apart from the biggest and most high-profile firms, would voluntarily export from Dublin to the UK and pay tariffs when they could just ship it from Belfast tariff-free.
It’s a preposterous situation and one which probably isn't even legal under World Trade Organisation terms.
Swann also warned that the "favour" would not be returned from Europe, claiming that the EU will "almost certainly" impose the same tariffs on produce from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as it does on any other non-EU member state.
“Such an outcome would have calamitous consequences for the local Northern Ireland economy, and for our farmers in particular.
“It’s now looking increasingly likely that Brexit will be delayed, and given the risks of the UK Government’s illogical plans on tariffs, it strikes me as the only rationale option we’ve got left.
"I speak as someone who voted leave; but, if it means getting a deal that works and avoids decimating local farming families and turning Northern Ireland into a smuggler's paradise, I for one would be prepared to wait a few months longer," Swann said.