Government to apply tariffs to food in event of no-deal Brexit

20/02/2019 - 06:00
The government will apply tariffs to food imports to protect British farmers in a no-deal scenario, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, has confirmed.

He told the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) annual conference in Birmingham that reports that Britain would operate a zero tariff regime in order to secure frictionless trade in a no-deal scenario were ‘not accurate’.

“One thing I can reassure you it will not be the case that we will have zero rate tariffs on products, there will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production,” Gove said.

The tariff regime Britain would like to apply in the event of no deal will be revealed in the ‘next few days’.

He later hinted that the tariffs would apply to beef and ‘particularly’ lamb, citing livestock farmers as the most vulnerable in a no-deal scenario.

Urging farmers to petition their MPs to vote for Theresa May’s deal, he said the clear priority was to secure a deal.

“The tariffs that will be announced in the event of no deal are not our preferred policy,” he said. “It shouldn’t be taken as the be all and end all of UK policy, absolutely not.”

Gove ‘promised’ British food standards will not be lowered ‘in pursuit of trade deals’ and vowed to minimise the risk that food producers will be left at ‘competitive disadvantage’ in the face of cheaper tariff-free imports that are below EU standards.

He also warned that delays were likely in Calais because of mandatory EU checks on food imports on the French side of the channel.

 “We can expect, at least in the short term, that those delays in Calais will impede the loading of ferries, constricting supply routes back into Britain and furring up the arteries of commerce on which we all rely,” said Gove.

The NFU recently warned that health and safety audits required on individual food processing plans required by the EU could take up to six months to complet.

Gove said: “A huge proportion of our food exports to the EU currently go through Calais. As I speak there are no Border Inspection Posts [BIP] at Calais. None. The French authorities promise to invest in BIP capacity but with just six weeks to go we face considerable uncertainty over future arrangements.

“The requirement for checks will inevitably slow the processing of exports, and for every lorry that is delayed at Calais there is a knock-on effect for other haulage and the rapid turn-around of roll-on roll-off ferries.”

On Tuesday Gove confirmed this by pointing out the EU had not yet classified the UK as a “third country”, which will only happen after health and safety audits are complete.

“The EU still have not listed the UK as a full third country … As I speak there is no absolute guarantee we will continue to be able to export to the EU,” he told farmers.

Gove also said that the dangers of no deal would not be removed if, in future, a trade deal was sealed between the UK and the EU.

Once tariffs are imposed by the EU on British exports ‘it will be difficult to re-establish that market access even if tariffs reduced in the future’.

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