UK government will use tariffs and quotas to protect UK farmers after Brexit, minister warns

British Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Photo: Reuters
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Photo: Reuters

Ciaran Moran and Kylie MacLellan

The British government will use tools including tariffs and quotas to make sure its farmers are not left at a competitive disadvantage by Brexit, environment minister Michael Gove will say today.

As part of Ireland's Brexit planning, the Department of Agriculture has carried out a detailed analysis of the implications for Irish agri-food exports in a scenario whereby the UK applied the EU’s existing tariff schedule on imports.

Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed has said the analysis found that the estimated cost of potential tariffs for the sector as a whole is €1.7 billion, based on Irish agri-food exports to the United Kingdom of €4.8 billion in 2016.

IFA estimate the imposition of WTO tariffs in a hard-Brexit will impose a direct cost of €800m per year on the beef sector alone.

With just six weeks to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, the government is yet to win parliament’s backing for an exit agreement. It is due to set out later this month the tariffs it plans to levy if Britain leaves without a deal on March 29.

UK Trade minister Liam Fox has denied media reports that he supports slashing tariffs on all imports to zero in order to keep prices low for consumers.

Farmers say this could price them out of the market.

Gove will seek to reassure them that the government has no such policy.

“We will use the tools we have at our disposal - tariffs, quotas and legislation - to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage,” Gove will say in a speech to the National Farmers’ Union, according to advance extracts.

He will also promise that Britain will not lower its food standards in the pursuit of trade deals, and set out what the government is doing to mitigate the impact, particularly on small businesses, of a no-deal exit, his office said.

Mr Gove has also said there were “legitimate” concerns among the British agricultural sector about leaving the EU without a deal.

He said: “It’s true – I make no bones about it – if we leave the European Union without a deal we will face tariffs of at least 40% on sheep.”

He said the impact on the export trade would depend on a variety of factors, including the extent to which sterling would depreciate and therefore make exports more competitive.

He added: “The critical thing is that if we have a deal then these problems don’t arise, and therefore I would hope that you would put pressure on all your elected representatives to support a deal.

“Because the easiest way to take no deal off the table is if Members of Parliament from Scotland vote for a deal.”

Mr Gove said the majority of farmers had voted to leave the EU, and that the Common Agricultural Policy had imposed a “straightjacket, one-size-fits-all, rigid, bureaucratic system” on how UK farmers operate.

“There’s a significant opportunity to strip away some of the unnecessary bureaucracy to ensure that support for farmers is delivered more effectively and to ensure that food producers can do even better in the future,” he said.

IFA President Joe Healy has said while the Government and other sectors are talking about preparing for Brexit, beef farmers are already counting their losses.

"Cattle prices are down €100 per head on this time last year. He said Brexit uncertainty and the weakness of sterling has already hit hard on beef prices and farm incomes.

IFA has requested that for every 5c/kg change on the price, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed needs to secure €20 per head additional direct payment compensation.

"Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and the Government must adopt an urgent approach to the crisis in the beef sector. He said the Minister needs to abandon his ‘wait and see attitude’ and get back out to Brussels to secure an immediate aid package for Brexit beef losses," Mr Healy said.