Government unveils emergency no-deal Brexit tariffs plan after deal defeat

Written by Kevin Schofield and Matt Foster on 13 March 2019 in News
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Plan would waive Northern Ireland border checks and slash tariffs if the UK leaves the EU without a deal

Photo: PA

Britain will waive all checks at the Irish border and axe the vast majority of tariffs on imports to the UK under a no-deal Brexit, the government has confirmed.

The "temporary" plans were unveiled just hours after Theresa May's Brexit deal was again defeated in the House of Commons and as MPs prepared to vote on whether or not to back leaving the EU without a deal.

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said the move was a "real term consequence of the votes in the House of Commons last night".


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Under the proposals to help Britain cope with a no-deal Brexit, 87% of all imports to Britain by value will be eligible for zero-tariff access - up from 80% at present.

The government also confirmed that import tariffs will not apply to EU goods crossing into Northern Ireland from the Republic, while no new checks or controls on goods moving across the border will be introduced.

Goods crossing the Irish border are currently free from checks because of Britain's membership of the European Union. Under a no-deal outcome, the government said it will instead ask businesses to self-report the movement of goods, while an online system will be set up to collect VAT payments.

Trade minister George Hollingbery said: “Our priority is securing a deal with the EU as this will avoid disruption to our global trading relationships.

“However, we must prepare for all eventualities. If we leave without a deal, we will set the majority of our import tariffs to zero, whilst maintaining tariffs for the most sensitive industries.

“This balanced approach will help support British jobs and avoid potential price spikes that would hit the poorest households the hardest.”

Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley added that the government “has been clear that a deal with the EU is the best outcome for Northern Ireland”.

She added: “But we will do what we can to support people and businesses across Northern Ireland in the event that we leave without a deal.

“The measures announced today recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. These arrangements can only be temporary and short-term.”

Barclay described the changes as "a modest liberalisation".

He said: "It is a temporary measure. This is for a short term while we engage with business to see what the real-term consequences are. Our approach is shaped by the fact we need to abide by the law, and the WTO legal requirements require a consistency between what we do with a most favoured nation approach.

"The aim is to be price neutral and take a balanced approach, but it is a real term consequence of the votes in the House of Commons last night."

The Commons voted 391 to 242 against the re-worked withdrawal agreement, despite prime minister Theresa May’s warnings that doing so could put Brexit itself at risk.

Responding to the defeat, the prime minister confirmed she would go ahead with plans to offer MPs two further votes on leaving the EU without a deal and on extending the Article 50 process. MPs will vote on tonight on whether to approve the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

"I profoundly regret the decision that this House has taken," she said yesterday.

"I continue to believe that by far the best outcome is that the UK leaves the EU in an orderly fashion with a deal, and that the deal we have negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available.”

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Kevin Schofield and Matt Foster
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Kevin Schofield is the editor and Matt Foster the deputy editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

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