Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has urged the UK Government to urgently see the ‘sheer foolishness’ of their new proposed tariff regime in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Robin Swann said:
“The decision of the United Kingdom in June 2016 to vote to leave the European Union was momentous, not only in its massive political significance but also the fundamental challenges it has created since.
“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.
“In their desperation to be seen to take the moral high ground on avoiding a hard border here, the UK Government have effectively proposed turning the Province into a smugglers fantasy.
“By slapping steep tariffs on many agricultural products such as meat and dairy products between the ROI and the UK, but leaving tariff free access between ROI and Northern Ireland, it’s blatantly obvious what will happen.
“In theory the new tariff regime could mean better prices for producers as EU imports to GB 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.
“Why would any producer from the Republic of Ireland - apart from the biggest and most high profile companies – voluntarily ship their produce from Dublin to England, and pay the associated tariff costs, when they could just as easily put it on the back of a lorry and ship it from Belfast tariff free? It’s a preposterous situation and one which probably isn't even legal under World Trade Organisation terms.
“What makes it worse is the UK Government took the decision in the blind and misguided hope that the EU and Ireland would return the favour.
“That is almost certain not to happen and as a result the EU will 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 smugglers paradise, I for one would be prepared to wait a few months longer."