9 December 2019
L. Alan Winters CB is Professor of Economics and Director of the Observatory.
Our analysis finds that under the UK-EU Protocol on Northern Ireland, about 75% of Northern Ireland’s imports of goods from other locations, including Great Britain, would be subject to EU tariffs on their arrival in Northern Ireland. This is not easily reconciled with the government’s assertion that Northern Ireland remains within the UK customs territory.
Under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland’s imports from the EU, including the Republic of Ireland, would face no tariffs. Among imports from elsewhere, the Protocol requires that any goods deemed at risk of moving to the European Union should be subject to the tariffs of the EU rather than those of the UK.
Relying on a a range of statistical data and informed assumptions, the analysis breaks Northern Ireland’s imports down according to the risk criteria in the Protocol and finds that about 82% of Northern Ireland’s imports from non-EU countries and approximately 64% of imports from Great Britain would face EU tariffs. Summing the contributions to Northern Ireland’s imports from the EU (25% of the total), the rest of the world (12%) and Great Britain (63%) suggests that, overall, around 75% of all Northern Irish imports will pay the EU tariff on entering the province.
While goods that are proved to have been sold to final buyers in Northern Ireland can have any EU tariff they have paid rebated, those rebates are likely to be difficult for the private sector to claim and are therefore unlikely to refund much tariff revenue.
Further, since Northern Ireland’s imports from the EU would not face any change under the Protocol but a large share of imports from Great Britain may newly face tariffs, it seems likely that, over time, Great Britain may lose market share in Northern Ireland, both to domestic supply and to increasing imports from the EU.
Further, a Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU would not completely avoid the problem. While goods produced in Great Britain exported to Northern Ireland and transiting on to the Republic of Ireland would face no tariffs, they would still need to satisfy rules of origin to prove that they had been produced in Great Britain. Hence there would still be administrative hurdles for such exports to jump.
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