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THERE WILL BE TARIFFS

Six months on, the hype and spin and political posturing of the referendum campaign has largely receded and we can confront the harsh reality of our immediate future. Nothing short of a political miracle can now prevent the drawing of the EU’s external border from Muff on Lough Foyle to Narrowwater on Carlingford Lough. There is hardly an enterprise on the island of Ireland that will not, sooner or later, directly or remotely, feel the impact of this new partitioning – and it will be overwhelmingly negative. Frontline communities within 20-30 km of the existing border are already feeling the draught but that is only the immediate currency effect. Think of customs duties to be paid at the border on pretty much everything that the north sends south – 36% on milk, 20% on other animal products – and retaliatory tariffs in the other direction. This is what is coming.

Brexit was a unique and frankly unexpected event so the post-referendum chaos was understandable and the brief period of wishful thinking on the part of stunned political leaders was to some extent even excusable. But it must stop now. A survey by Intertrade Ireland around the time of the referendum revealed two startling and related statistics:

  • 97% of businesses in Ireland had no Brexit plan
  • For 80 % their main source of information on Brexit was TV news bulletins

We need to get real, to establish the true facts of our situation, to encourage and treasure sound analysis and inspired commentary, and above all to disseminate these to the communities and enterprises that have an absolute need to be well informed so that they can make good decisions. That in a nutshell is what the Brexit Border Blog seeks to do.

The pilot Brexit Border Blog has been tracking the increasingly realistic tone of the debate in Ireland since September 2016, when we began to see pre-referendum analytical reports being replaced by more thoughtful studies and prognoses. We have collected all available high-quality analysis within the island of Ireland to provide a repository for future public debate and are now turning our attention to relevant output from think tanks across Europe.

Based on this analysis we will seek to unravel the twists and turns of the ongoing Brexit debate and to keep a firm focus on such hard facts as we can know with a degree of certainty to counteract any tendency for the debate to slide back into wishful thinking.

In the next stage, Brexit Border Blog wants to start a dialogue with enterprises and communities which are or will be directly affected, to profile them and their plans. All over Ireland people in all sorts of different jobs and roles are realising that major change is coming down the line at them and they are developing coping strategies. We want to find these people and highlight what they are thinking and doing because we all need them to succeed.

There is a need for more debate, particularly at the sectoral or organisational level where people have to make short-term decisions with long-term consequences. BBB intends to inform and where appropriate lead that debate.

  • What will happen in higher education?
  • Who will replace farm income in the north when Single Farm Payments end?
  • What will WTO tariffs do to north-south dairy exports?
  • What will cross-border retail look like in ten years time?
  • What will border communities look like when all EU funding ends?

No doubt London and Dublin can get together to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA): that is in their gift. But we have seen no serious study which takes the view that tariffs can be avoided. They will be applied to goods going through Killean, Aughnacloy, Pettigo and Bridgend.

Fearghal McKinney is a former newspaper, radio and television reporter and presenter and served as an MLA  in the Northern Ireland Assembly. email: fearghal@brexitborder.com

Séamus Murphy has a background in financial journalism in Ireland and Scandinavia including a seven-year stint as editor of European Banker. email: seamus@brexitborder.com