Johnson leaves Ireland back door wide open

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 06.12.2019

A leaked Treasury analysis shows how Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement could undermine our own internal market – as the EU could route goods to Great Britain via Ireland but we couldn’t do the reverse.

Some of the document simply repeats things we already knew – for instance, that the Prime Minister is lying when he says there will be no checks on goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. That means he has already broken his promise that Northern Ireland will have unfettered access to the rest of the UK.

But the killer part shows just how much Johnson conceded when he did his deal. It shows that, if he imposes no more checks than he has already agreed with the EU, that will open a back door which producers from the bloc and the rest of the world could exploit to our disadvantage. (See pages 10-12

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    Here’s how the back door works. A company ships its goods to Ireland. It loads them onto a lorry and drives them across the invisible Irish border to Northern Ireland. From there, it ships them across the Irish Sea and they enter Great Britain.

    There are four big problems with this. 

    EU and others will have us over a barrel in trade talks

    EU companies could use the back door to ship their goods to the UK via Ireland, avoiding any tariffs and regulatory checks we might seek to impose in the English Channel. Countries with EU trade deals, such as Japan and Canada, could do the same. How will we then negotiate good deals to open up their markets to our exporters? We’ll either get crap deals with the EU and other countries – or no deals at all.

    Lost revenue

    The Treasury could lose out on import duties. Why would companies bother to pay in Dover if they can avoid the duty by routing their goods via Ireland? Again this doesn’t just apply to imports from the EU. It could also apply to imports from countries which have deals with the EU. 

    Substandard and subsidised goods

    Without regulatory checks, goods that don’t meet British standards could pass onto our market without anyone noticing. That would be bad for consumers, and undercut British companies. Farmers would be at particular risk if Michael Gove gets to raise animal welfare standards, according to the Treasury. Luckily for them, he probably won’t. But farmers and other producers could face unfair competition in other ways –  say if the EU subsidises its local firms.

    Less confidence in Northern Irish goods

    Without checks to guarantee their provenance, consumers in Great Britain might worry that goods made in Northern Ireland are themselves substandard – and that could damage sales even if they were absolutely fine. 

    Of course, Johnson doesn’t have to leave this back door open. He could go back on his promise of unfettered access just as he has broken so many others.

    The Prime Minister said today that voters should ignore the Treasury civil servants and “believe what I say”. But why should they trust our very own Pinocchio?

    The headline was updated on December 7

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