Republic's hands tied on Brexit trade tariffs, warns ex-Taoiseach John Bruton
Former Taoiseach John Bruton has warned the Republic would have "no option" but to charge tariffs on goods coming across the border in one possible post-Brexit scenario.
Writing in the Irish Independent today, ex-Fine Gael leader Mr Bruton said that if Britain did not join the European Economic Area (EEA) after a vote to leave, it could either seek a new special trade agreement or leave the EU without any trade agreement.
He added a new agreement could take up to eight years to conclude and would require "detailed negotiation" on every type of product or service being traded across the border or between the UK and rest of the EU. Leaving without any agreement would be even more serious.
Mr Bruton wrote: "A decision by the UK to leave the EU without joining the EEA and without a trade agreement would require the application of the EU common external tariff to UK or Northern Irish products crossing the border into the Republic.
"Average tariffs are around 4%, but on agricultural goods the average tariff is 18% and the highest tariff is 604%.
"The imposition of these tariffs is part of Common Agricultural Policy, which protects the incomes of EU farmers. We would have no option but to collect them."
The former premier, whose tenure from 1994 to 1997 coincided with the aftermath of the IRA ceasefire and the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, also warned that the process of getting to grips with the impact of a Brexit on cross-border trade could be "like having to unscramble an omelette".
"At a meeting I attended on Brexit recently, I heard someone who holds a very senior position in the Irish food industry say that products as simple as sandwiches sold in service stations now contain a mixture of ingredients produced in the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland and in England," he wrote.
"The disruption of the complex supply chain of the modern food industry would be dramatic and the knock-on effects impossible to calculate."
It would disrupt "all forms of food manufacture and distribution" on the island," Mr Bruton claimed.