Michael Creed. Picture: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Michael Creed. Picture: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Dublin — Plans by Britain to levy import tariffs on beef, lamb and dairy products if it crashes out of the EU without a deal will be potentially disastrous for Irish farmers, agriculture minister Michael Creed said on Wednesday.

Britain laid out plans to temporarily eliminate tariffs on many goods and keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland free of customs checks as MPs prepared to vote on Wednesday on if it should leave the EU without a transition agreement. But protections would remain in place for, among others, carmakers and meat and dairy farmers.

Ireland’s €3.1bn of trade in food and live animals with Britain in 2018 represented more than 40% of all exports in that category. The Irish Farmers’ Association estimated the additional cost to beef producers alone from the tariffs would be almost €800m.

“This is potentially a disaster, yes,” Creed told national broadcaster RTE. “We’re involved now in a very detailed analysis of what the implications are … it’s not a pretty picture … But this is in the event of no deal and we’re not there yet.”

Farmers’ association president Joe Healy said that Ireland’s most exposed sectors, particularly beef, “simply will not survive” the kind of tariffs being talked about and that it would have a devastating effect on the rural economy.

Creed said officials from his department were in Brussels on Wednesday for further discussions on interventions that would be required in response. The European Commission president has promised to assist Irish farmers and other businesses under a no-deal Brexit.

London said Northern Ireland would not be subject to the tariffs, a feature the province’s Federation of Small Businesses said would likely lead to a rush of Irish exporters using Northern Ireland as a backdoor to avoid the British duties.

The British government said those arrangements can only be temporary and it will seek to enter urgent discussions with the European Commission and Dublin to agree long-term measures to avoid a hard border.

Ireland’s position — that it will not make plans for managing the currently seamless border in a no-deal Brexit until such an outcome emerges — remains unchanged, European affairs minister Helen McEntee told RTE. She said London’s temporary plan to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU member Ireland replicates what is already on offer in the Irish “backstop” arrangements opposed by British MPs.