UK farm lobby bodies grill Government over Irish tariff-free proposals

Farm lobby bodies have asked for clarity over Government proposals to grant the Republic of Ireland tariff-free market access to Northern Ireland.

The temporary tariffs will come into effect in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit but will not apply to goods coming from the Republic into Northern Ireland but there is no guarantee any similar arrangements be made for goods travelling in the opposite direction.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) said the proposals appeared to be in contrary to World Trade Organisation rules.

Speaking after a meeting of committee chairmen and vice presidents, FUW head of policy Nick Fenwick said: “Press reports that tariffs would be charged for a variety of imported goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit except those crossing from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland have caused all sorts of confusion, and were initially assumed to be down to a misinterpretation by reporters.

“However, the Government website states clearly that this would be the case.”

Dr. Fenwick said that this appeared to “fly in the face” of World Trade Organisation and EU rules.

If the Government said it was going to apply tariffs to all imports except those entering the UK from Germany, without any form of trade deal in place, this would clearly be a breach of WTO rules.

“It would also go against the rules of the EU because Germany is in the Single Market.

“The same principle applies to imports or movements of goods from any EU Member State, including the Republic of Ireland – irrespective of whether the border is on the land or in the sea,” he said.

Dr. Fenwick added that the Government statement made “no sense” and effectively “advertised a back-door” for smugglers.

We have written to the Treasury to seek clarification, and are happy to stand corrected if there is some form of rational way of doing this, but it appears to undermine the very principles on which WTO rules are based.

“However, if we are right, a correction and explanation which sets the record right in the press must be issued as soon as possible.”

Sheep industry fears

National Sheep Association (NSA) Northern Ireland regional development officer Edward Adamson said the decision to allow the Republic of Ireland tariff-free access to Northern Ireland (without the same access being granted in return) could be enough to destroy sheep farming in the region.

“It cannot be exaggerated enough just how fragile the situation in Northern Ireland is for sheep farmers,” he said.

“Our industry is reliant on policymakers in Westminster and in Belfast working hard to ensure protections for us are in place.

“We are already facing issues with shortages of labour in the abattoirs thanks to Brexit.

With many abattoirs being in the South, and the movement of some 400,000 lambs a year going that way, we are likely to find sheep farmers in Northern Ireland will have no choice but to pay the tariffs when there is nowhere else to send their sheep.

“This would crush our industry and force many farmers out of business, an outcome which would be totally unacceptable.”