The proposed tariff regime in the event of a no deal Brexit would be a disastrous scenario for Irish farmers, according to farming reps.
Details of tariff plans were released by British civil service in light of Prime Minister Theresa May's resounding defeat in the meaningful vote on her withdrawal deal in Westminster last night. The embattled Tory leader was defeated by 149 votes - despite some window dressing on the contentious backstop issue - and this evening (at 7pm there will be a further vote on whether to take no-deal off the table. However the House of Commons will be unable to remove the so-called “accidental no-deal”, if they cannot secure an extension from the EU.
Reverberations from the latest political convulsions in London were felt in Ireland's agri-sector with IFA President Joe Healy warning that the prospect of a no deal has moved closer after Tuesday's defeat.
“Our most exposed sectors, particularly beef, simply will not survive the kind of tariffs being talked about. This would have a devastating effect in the rural economy,” he said.
“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.
If the UK decide to have zero tariffs on food imports this would also be hugely problematic as it is likely, under WTO rules that zero tariffs would be applied to all countries. This could expose Irish food to competition from low cost, low standard imports from non-EU countries.
A tariff rate quota regime would see a similar situation where Ireland would have to compete against low cost imports for our part of that quota.
“Overall any ‘no deal’ UK regime will be very damaging for Irish farmers,” said Mr Healy.
The IFA President said that the EU Commission and the Government will have to honour the political commitments they have given to provide a comprehensive package in the event of a no deal Brexit.
ICSA president Patrick Kent echoed Mr Healy's sentimennts. He said the announcement on tariff rates “crystallises our worst fears” of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the Irish beef sector.
“The beef farming sector is already in crisis, with prices back up to €200/ head year on year for certain categories of animal. In some cases, farmers have had delays in getting animals processed. This announcement will cause dismay and we cannot underestimate the potential devastation to beef farming.”
He added: “The rates imposed on sheep meat are actually much more punitive, presumably because the UK government has decided to protect their sheep farmers but our sheep farmers are not so dependent on the UK for exports.”