Farm Ireland

Monday 25 March 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Northern Ireland will become "Bandit Country" if no-deal Brexit goes ahead'

Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

THE road signs at the frictionless Irish border might as well say ‘Welcome to Bandit Country’ if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead.

On one level we should be grateful today that British Prime Minister Theresa May intends to live up to her promise not to introduce physical custom checks on this island.

But at the same there are so many questions about her no-deal plan that we would be naïve not to be deeply worried about the societal and economic impact.

Officials in Dublin have been left somewhat ‘gobsmacked’ by the “keep calm and carry on” message to businesses on this island.

There’s no doubt that Mrs May proposals are filled with contradictions.

For a start, Northern Ireland will be treated differently from the rest of the UK, where tariffs will be imposed on some EU goods if a Brexit deal fails to materialise.

Irish Government sources have repeatedly argued the original ‘backstop’ gives the North “the best of both worlds”. They would have unrivalled access to both the UK and EU markets.

However, the DUP argued against this on the grounds that the region would be different from the rest of the UK. Today’s proposals ensure the North will be UK’s backdoor.

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There will be no import tariffs on goods entering Northern Ireland across the Irish border under May’s plans. However, businesses that sent products across the Irish Sea from Dublin or Rosslare will be hit with big taxes.

So beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy going North travels into the UK without tariffs but if it goes direct there will be a bill. A smugglers’ dream.

There is an acknowledged risk in Whitehall of Northern Ireland becoming a "back door" for EU goods to enter the wider UK market tariff-free but the UK government says new laws will be introduced to crack down on anyone trying to exploit the system.

But one senior source in Dublin couldn’t contain their bamboozlement: “Under these plans the UK market could be flooded via Northern Ireland and Ireland with tariff free Irish beef, Spanish oranges, French cheese and Polish honey.

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Christopher Furlong/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Christopher Furlong/PA Wire

“Meanwhile UK produce becomes too expensive to export. If they get overwhelmed through Northern Ireland the documents say they’ll consider checks at ports. In other words, a customs border between Northern Ireland and mainland UK in Sammy Wilson’s constituency. It’s time to wake up, no one wants this.”

Then there is the possibility that the EU will demand its Single Market is protected from inferior goods travelling into the Republic.

It is no longer beyond the bounds of reasonable logic to imagine a scenario whereby people and goods can move from the Republic into the North without checks – but face them when travelling in the opposition direction.

The UK says the arrangement can only be temporary until a new trading regime is negotiated with the EU.

Ireland says they have already spent two years putting together the ‘backstop’ which solves many of the issues being flung around like mud in Westminster.

“Nobody claimed the backstop perfect was better but anybody living in the real world can see it’s better than what they’ve thrown into the mix today,” an Irish source said.

In May’s paperwork released today, she notes that “a negotiated settlement is the only means of sustainably guaranteeing no hard border and protecting businesses in Northern Ireland”.

“That is why we are, first and foremost, still committed to leaving the EU with a deal. In a no-deal scenario, the UK government is committed to entering into discussions urgently with the European Commission and the Irish Government to jointly agree long-term measures to avoid a hard border.”

In summary, after two years of negotiating on how to avoid a hard border her fresh plan is to negotiate on how to avoid a hard border.

In the meantime, ‘taking back control of their borders’ means leaving their only land border wide open.

At least we know Brexit means Brexit.

Online Editors

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