Editorial: ‘May’s tariff plan places our farmers in Brexit crosshairs’

'UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s tariff plan targets Ireland’s weakest spot.' Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/Handout via Reuters
‘UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s tariff plan targets Ireland’s weakest spot.’ Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/Handout via Reuters

It may not have had quite the impact of the Royal Navy’s Helga sailing up the Liffey, all guns blazing at Liberty Hall and the GPO, but the announcement of the new UK tariff regime has been explosive, exactly as intended.

For all the talk of being good neighbours and remaining mutually respectful of historic ties, UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s tariff plan targets Ireland’s weakest spot.

If Queensberry rules applied in international trade wars, it would be regarded as a low blow aimed at weakening our Government into taking a backward step on the backstop.

Coming as it does ahead of next week’s critical European Council meeting, it is hard to see it as anything other than Mrs May’s last-gasp attempt to squeeze concessions and resurrect her deal for another final funeral march around Westminster.

As Declan Billington, former chair of CBI Northern Ireland, warned, the moves would inflame cross-Border tensions. “Northern Ireland has not been thrown under the bus, so much as under a convoy of European lorries bringing tariff-free food into the UK.” “Good luck with cross-Border relations on that one,” he added.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, recognising the devastating damage the tariffs would do, said the Government would seek an immediate relaxation of state aid rules and EU supports for business and agri-business.

It is unsettling to see that while the political paralysis in London is near total, the British government could still find unanimity to agree to go after the Irish agricultural sector.

While geography and dumb luck dictated this country could be the collateral damage in a crash-out disorderly Brexit, we had hoped for better. But the collapse of political leadership or direction across the water suggests we should brace ourselves for the worst.

At other times in our history, Britain’s economic heft meant any move against us would be crushing. True, the UK is still targeting one of the smallest countries in the EU, but the bloc comprises 460 million people.

Mrs May hasn’t just thrown down the gauntlet to Ireland, her move is also a challenge to the solidarity of the EU 27.

She is gambling as to whether member states will stand by Ireland when the real financial heat is turned up, and the implications of a messy and extremely costly divorce are fully understood.

The blackest of all ironies is of course that the North of Ireland – which according to the DUP could under no circumstances be treated differently to any other part of the UK – has been singled out to become what could be a paradise for smugglers and illicit trade.

Surely it is time for politicians in Westminster to put party affiliations aside and front up to what is in the British national interest.

Agreement to avoid a no deal will be irrelevant unless a consensus can be reached across the political divide. Otherwise, a crash-out is inevitable.

Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and all members of Westminster must unite to find something other than an economic doomsday to offer voters after two-and-a-half years of bedlam.

Irish Independent


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