The UK and the EU are trying to reach a trade agreement before the end of the year, when the transition period draws to a close and Britain is officially out of the bloc. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was a significant issue last year when negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, but Mr Johnson’s solution of a border in the Irish Sea seemed to put the problems to bed.
However, as no deal — which would lead to trade on World Trade Organisation terms — is looking increasingly likely, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned today that without an agreement, “damaging” tariffs and quotas would have to be implemented between the UK and EU.
This followed warnings from the Irish Farmers Association president, Tim Cullinan, in May who said “the UK is clearly hell-bent on pursuing a cheap food policy” with the US.
The Government also promised not to align with the EU regulation after Brexit and be a “rule-taker” in negotiations back in January.
Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney
Johnson celebrating with EU leaders after securing a Withdrawal Deal last Autumn
Writing in the Irish Times over the weekend, Paul Gillespie pointed out that as agriculture and food are at the centre of world trade, “this puts Ireland North and South at the centre of current negotiating outcomes on Brexit and transatlantic relations” during the intensifying trade talks.
He continued: “British negotiators highlight regained sovereignty as they resist future alignment with EU standards; simultaneously the US demands the UK accepts agriculture and food imports from there as the price of a trade deal to compensate for the loss of EU membership.”
Mr Gillespie added: “The UK customs service has confirmed the paperwork required to control trade from Britain to Northern Ireland and infrastructural work is to proceed in Larne [Northern Ireland] and elsewhere to implement it – despite earlier denials by Johnson.”
How the Irish border will work under Boris Johnson’s plan
He then claimed that “the food lobbies in the US Congress” would see their products “as a battering ram to open more important EU markets”.
While the Irish congressional lobby would not allow a UK-US deal that created an internal Irish border, “Ireland is nevertheless being weaponised by London in the Brexit negotiations”, according to Mr Gillespie.
If the UK had to negotiate with Ireland on WTO terms, it would seriously affect the beef industry there.
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Fifty-seven percent of UK tariffs would be put on Irish beef, which is a significant portion, as 40 percent of Ireland’s meat is exported to the UK.
Alternatively, Ireland and the EU could be forced to defend the single market on the Irish Border in the event of no deal, according to Mr Gillespie.
He asked: “For how long would EU solidarity last then?
“Could the UK’s consequent loss of international trust and credibility outlast that?”
The commentator concluded that “if those driving EU Brexit policy believe these costs are worthwhile to make their desired transition”, then Ireland would become the “geopolitical border” between the UK and the US, and Europe.
Under Mr Johnson’s proposed plans, Northern Ireland would stay in the EU’s Single Market and customs union, with checks in the Irish Sea, although the border has not yet been established.
Northern Ireland will not be able to have a say in the Single Market or customs union as it will be leaving the EU with the rest of the UK, but Mr Johnson has implemented a new clause which allows the Northern Irish Assembly to vote on the current system every four years.