Tariffs will be slashed to zero on 87% of imports to the UK as part of a temporary no-deal plan to prevent a £9bn price shock to business and consumers, the government has announced.
But tariffs will apply to certain goods including beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy products to “support farmers and producers who have historically been protected through high EU tariffs”.
The announcements were made in a last ditch attempt to concentrate the minds of MPs who will be voting later on Wednesday to reject a no-deal Brexit after Theresa May’s humiliating 149-vote defeat.
The government described the announcement as a “modest liberalisation” of tariffs designed to minimise disruption to business and price shock in the supermarkets.
The measures also raised immediate concerns about Northern Ireland being turned into a smugglers’ paradise after it was revealed that tariffs would not apply to goods crossing from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland.
The Irish European affairs minister, Helen McEntee, said the prospect of tariffs on beef and dairy exports to the UK from the republic would be “absolutely disastrous for Irish agriculture”.
Goods from the EU are currently tariff free but in case of a no-deal Brexit, World Trade Organisation taxes would have been the default position without this intervention.
Wednesday’s announcement on Northern Ireland did not include any disclosures about security on the border but it is known that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda in Ireland are concerned there could be a lucrative “Brexit dividend” for existing criminal networks in the country.
Recent reports have shown criminal gangs involved in smuggling of cigarettes and other goods in Ireland come from all over the world including Asia and the Baltic states.
The government also announced it would “not introduce any new checks or controls on goods moving to Ireland or Northern Ireland” including no customs declarations for “normal goods”.
The new tariff schedule would apply from 11pm on 29 March in the event of a crash out of the EU and would be in place for up to 12 months.