Michael Gove has tried to reassure Northern Ireland businesses fearing tariffs from a no-deal Brexit that they will be reimbursed by the government.
The announcement comes as farmers across the UK contemplate a report passed by the European Parliament today (Friday) that if trade talks collapse “agricultural goods would probably be most affected” by tariffs.
Gove, a report in the Telegraph states, has “suggested to Brussels” that the UK “could accept some tariffs” in return for the “freedom to diverge” from EU rules and regulations, thereby “moving away from the goal of a zero tariff trade deal.”
The “level playing field guarantees” are to ensure the UK does not seek a competitive advantage by undercutting EU standards on the environment, tax, state aid for companies and workers rights.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has already rejected Gove’s “suggestion”, saying there is not enough time to do a “line by line negotiation” before the transition period ends on December 31, 2020.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union said farmers in the UK and the EU “rely on trade to support their businesses” and warned: “The EU takes more than 70 per cent of the UK’s agri-food exports, and it is essential this relationship is maintained through a zero tariff, zero quota agreement.”
Meanwhile, as fears of a no-deal Brexit grow across the country, the minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove tried to reassure businesses in NI that legislation for tariff arrangements will be introduced to provide rebates for extra costs incurred from tariffs imposed in the event of a no-deal.
“We want to make sure that in the event of there not being a free trade agreement of whatever kind with the EU that we are in a position to indemnify and reimburse companies for tariffs,” Gove told the Northern Ireland affairs select committee.
When pressed by Labour’s Hilary Benn as to whether GB sales to Northern Ireland will require summary declaration forms – as currently required for non-EU goods imported into the UK – Gove was unable to answer.
The Cabinet Office minister did concede new safety and security measures will be required but that those details will not be revealed until later this summer.
The committee chairman Simon Hoare – Conservative MP for North Dorset – said trying to get firm information from Gove, and the NI secretary Brandon Lewis made him feel like “Alice through the looking glass [trying to divine] what words mean”.
While business leaders in NI welcomed Gove’s pledge to reimburse for any new tariffs as “significant”, concern has been expressed about the lack of detail of what this might entail.
The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Aodhán Connolly asked: “What paperwork would be needed? How long would it be for reimbursement as that is a huge cashflow problem?”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt described planning for 2021 was “like walking out into the mist, into the fog.”