UIster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has highlighted the importance of border issues, as the UK Government outlines its initial negotiating position for Brexit.
Mr Nicholson, responding to the Prime Minister Theresa May’s address, outlined the importance of avoiding high agricultural tariffs and an internal border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
“Since the Referendum vote I have been calling for a Brexit that works for all parts of the United Kingdom, and I welcome the fact that Theresa May has stated that this is as her ambition today,” he said.
“Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land frontier with the “EU27”. It is therefore crucial that from a regional perspective we get the detail of these negotiations right.
“One of my biggest fears during the referendum and since the result was that we could end up with a ‘border’ between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Mrs May’s comments are certainly a welcome signal that the UK Government does not want to see this either. We cannot risk becoming second class citizens in our own country.”
Mr Nicholson added: “It is clear that the UK Government wants to begin these negotiations from the position of leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union.
“In negotiating our departure from the Single Market, the Prime Minister needs to ensure that we will not fall victim to punitive tariffs. As it stands, the default tariffs of agricultural products into the EU are huge. For example WTO tariffs on UK exports would equate to 47 per cent on milk, 40 per cent on cheese and 40 per cent on lamb. Given that a large chunk of Northern Ireland’s agricultural produce is exported and the cross-border nature of supply chains, the sector locally could be decimated if it faces these tariffs.
“Similarly a bespoke customs agreement needs to be reached to allow goods to move freely across the border. We do not want to go back to the days of lorries queuing up on either side of the border due to customs checks.
“Sources I have spoken to on the EU side in Brussels are aware that the border will be the biggest challenge for both the EU and the UK in these negotiations. This is just the outline of the Prime Minister’s initial negotiating position. We still have some way to go.
“For Northern Ireland’s sake, we have to get this right. If we don’t, we will have the most to lose.”