The Farmers’ Union of Wales says it is prepared to challenge any failures by the UK Government to properly enforce customs controls in a way which allows a ‘back-door’ for tariff-free imports after Brexit, and will do so through the courts if necessary.
Speaking after an industry meeting in Builth Wells held to discuss the damaging falls in cattle prices, FUW president Glyn Roberts said: “Since draft import tariff rates and the proposal to allow tariff-free imports from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland were published in March, we have written repeatedly to Secretaries of State underlining the damage that those low rates would cause to Welsh agriculture, as well as raising concerns in numerous meetings.
“We have also queried the legality of setting tariffs at zero on the Irish land border, and highlighted the likelihood that this would open a back-door to smuggling onto the mainland unless customs controls at ports such as Liverpool are enforced rigidly.”
Mr Roberts said that without such controls, products such as Irish beef, which should be subject to tariffs when entering Wales, England or Scotland, could cross from Northern Ireland to ports such as Liverpool tariff-free.
“That would have a devastating impact on UK farmers given we would be subject to full tariffs being charged on our own exports, and it would also open a back-door to tariff-free imports from parts of the EU other than the Republic.”
Mr Roberts said that preparations to enforce such controls appeared to be minimal despite the 31 October Brexit date and obligations under WTO rules to ensure compliance with tariff rules. He also said that some feared that this failure might amount to the ‘decriminalisation’ of smuggling into Great Britain.
“We have already discussed with others the possibility of legal action if this happens and we are confident that it would be an open-and-shut case.
“The obvious way around this is to ensure that we do not leave the EU without a deal, as continues to be threatened by the Prime Minister despite the legislation that has been put in place to prevent this happening.”