‘No deal’ would hurt EU – and Ir­ish – ex­porters the most

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - ROSS CLARK READ MORE

Through­out the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, the EU has treated a trade deal with Bri­tain as if it were a con­ces­sion, of­fered to us out of the kind­ness of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s heart. Pay us a fat leav­ing bill, comes the mes­sage, keep aligned with EU reg­u­la­tion, agree to be stuck in the Ir­ish back­stop un­til we feel like re­leas­ing you, and we will most gen­er­ously al­low you to trade with us.

Thanks to their in­flex­i­bil­ity and in­tran­si­gence – which re­sulted in Theresa May’s one-sided deal, al­most cer­tain to be de­feated in the Com­mons on Tuesday – we are fac­ing the prospect of a no-deal Brexit in just 11 weeks’ time. Sure, that will cause prob­lems for UK con­sumers and in­dus­try – if not quite the apoc­a­lypse some have sug­gested. But no less, it will cause pain for many EU ex­porters who rely on the UK as a mar­ket, as EU ex­ports to Bri­tain are con­cen­trated in areas where, in the event of a nodeal Brexit, tar­iff bar­ri­ers are likely to be high­est.

Un­der World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion rules, Bri­tain will be able to charge what tar­iffs it likes, with a few con­di­tions. Prod­uct by prod­uct, it must charge the same tar­iff on ev­ery coun­try – ex­cept where it has a for­mal trade deal.

In the short run, the UK would most prob­a­bly start to ap­ply the same tar­iff rates to the EU that we had ap­plied to third coun­tries as mem­bers of the EU. The EU would, after all, now be ap­ply­ing those on UK ex­ports. But EU ex­porters would get the worst of this ar­range­ment, be­cause a higher pro­por­tion of their ex­ports to us are in the field of agri­cul­ture, where tar­iffs are es­pe­cially high.

No group of peo­ple in the EU or Bri­tain stand to suf­fer so much from a nodeal Brexit as Ir­ish farm­ers. Why has the Taoiseach, Leo Varad­kar, made such an issue of the back­stop when surely he must see that he is gam­bling with his coun­try’s agri­cul­tural in­ter­ests? Ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by his own gov­ern­ment, 11 of the 15 ex­port prod­ucts across the EU that would be most af­fected by tar­iffs un­der no deal are Ir­ish.

A huge 82 per cent of Ire­land’s £54 mil­lion a year milk ex­ports, for ex­am­ple, go to the UK – and would at­tract tar­iffs of 45 per cent. The coun­try ex­ports £1.2 bil­lion worth of beef a year, 49 per cent of which goes to the UK.

As for France, 13 per cent of its £7.6 bil­lion a year wine ex­ports go to Bri­tain. With cham­pagne, it is nearer a quar­ter. Much has been made of Jaguar Land Rover cut­ting 5,000 jobs in Bri­tain, but the Ger­man car in­dus­try is suf­fer­ing a worse down­turn – which won’t be helped if it has to pay a 10 per cent tar­iff on the 14 per cent of its £120 mil­lion a year car ex­ports that go to the UK. Forty-eight per cent of Italy’s olives go to Bri­tain, as do 14 per cent of Spain’s £455 mil­lion fresh veg­eta­bles.

As things stand, the EU is still re­fus­ing to ac­com­mo­date any changes to the deal ne­go­ti­ated by Mrs May. Are Michel Barnier and Co re­ally go­ing to stick to that line, know­ing what is at stake for EU ex­porters, es­pe­cially in Ire­land, the coun­try for whose ben­e­fit the back­stop is sup­pos­edly de­signed? If I were an Ir­ish dairy farmer I know what I would be telling them: never mind the faint risk of the mi­nor in­con­ve­nience of a cus­toms check at the bor­der with North­ern Ire­land – just don’t cut off my liveli­hood. FOL­LOW Ross Clark on Twit­ter @RossjournoClark;

at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion To order prints or signed copies of any Tele­graph car­toon, go to tele­graph.co.uk/prints-car­toons or call 0191 603 0178 read­er­[email protected]­graph.co.uk

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