Govt Considering Zero Tariffs, Tech Options for Irish Border in No-Deal Brexit

TORQUAY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 13: People hold up posters at the 'Leave Means Rally' at the Rivera International Centre on October 13, 2018 in Torquay, England. Leave Means Leave is a pro-Brexit campaign, holding a series of rallies and events across the United Kingdom. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Matt Cardy/Getty

The government is considering temporarily dropping import tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit while ministers are said to be examining hi-tech freight tracking across the Irish border.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox raised scrapping tariffs at a meeting with business leaders in the ceramics industry on Monday, according to original reporting by HuffPost.

Doing so would be key to keeping prices low for British consumers and keep trade flowing between Dover and Calais when the UK is no longer in a customs union with the EU — though both Calais officials and the British tax office have said measures have been put in place to minimise disruption.

Should the UK leave the EU without a deal, it would move onto World Trade Organization (WTO) trade rules, meaning that whilst it would drop tariffs on EU goods it would also need to remove tariffs for products from non-EU countries under the “most favoured nation” principle.

A spokesman from the Department for International Trade denied that the plans were official Government policy, however, telling the Financial Times that they are “options on the table and the government is looking into each one” and no decision has yet been made.

“We will need to balance a number of considerations to avoid potential price rises for consumers and manage the impact on producers that rely heavily on supply chains as well as those who are currently protected from global competition by import tariffs,” the spokesman said.

Brexiteers have long advocated for moving onto WTO terms and leaving the EU without Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal which includes a near two-year transition period, a £39 billion divorce bill, and agreeing to an Irish backstop that could lock Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with the EU after December 2020, legally and economically cutting off the country from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Invoking Article 24 of WTO rules has gained traction with Leavers, specifically, which would give the UK up to ten years to continue on current trading rules with the EU whilst the UK negotiates a new trading relationship with the bloc.

Brexit architect Nigel Farage maintains that only two years would be needed under the WTO measure, saying last week, “Article 24 of the World Trade Organization will allow both sides to [operate on current trading arrangements] and we will have two years after Britain leaves to carry on tariff-free while we sort out a trade agreement.”

Meanwhile, Brexit ministers are said to be looking into technological solutions to tracking goods passing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event of a WTO exit.

According to a leaked blueprint by Japanese firm Fujitsu seen by The Sun, British officials have been working on the plan for the past ten months which would allow for freight to flow between the Irish border without any physical checks or customs infrastructure.

The ‘Drive Through Border Concept’ would involve tariffs being paid online and in advance, and a tracking system that monitors vehicles via GPS and number plate recognition cameras as used to collect road tolls in London and elsewhere.

A minister involved in the plans told the tabloid, “Given that we can land a probe the size of a fridge on Mars, it can’t be beyond us to devise an imperceptible system for a 310 mile border.”

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