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Unionist peer Trimble says smuggling would be 'delightful' side-effect of Brexit tariffs

By Andrew Woodcock

Any attempt by the Irish Government to impose tariffs on trade with the UK after Brexit would lead to an upsurge in smuggling at the border with Northern Ireland, former first minister Lord Trimble has warned.

The Conservative peer said an increase in smuggling would have the "delightful" side-effect of diverting criminal elements from paramilitary activity by giving them something else to do.

But he said the better solution would be to remove or reduce tariffs across the British Isles.

Lord Trimble told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Irish Republic's main market is England and it exports over the Irish Sea into England a greater part of its produce.

"Will Dublin insist on tariffs applying? If they do, then there is an obligation under EU law for the Irish Government to put in place the appropriate infrastructure.

"They will have to do that on the Northern Irish border anyway, but that's south of the border and we are not interested in south of the border. North of the border there will be no such infrastructure.

"We haven't got clarity from the EU on this. I would like not to see tariffs there at all but if they insist on tariffs - which they probably will, they are not very good at changing their own procedures - you are going to have a problem there."

But Lord Trimble added: "It's going to have a rather delightful side-effect, because if there is this tariff barrier between southern Ireland and England, then there will be people in southern Ireland who start to move things into Northern Ireland and then into England that way to avoid the tariffs - smuggling.

"When it comes to smuggling through the border, I'm sure that people who've been long experienced in dealing with the border will come into play there. They will probably organise themselves, they will be very like the paramilitary organisations there before.

"But they are there simply for the purpose of making money and smuggling and that will actually help by keeping these chaps - who might otherwise do silly things - (busy), giving them something useful and money-making to do. It will actually have a benign effect."

Lord Trimble called on Dublin to press Brussels for a British Isles exemption from the requirement to collect tariffs on trade with countries outside the EU. "It's in its own interests for them to speak to the EU about tariffs and about the reduction or elimination of tariffs within the British Isles," said the former Ulster Unionist Party leader.

"That would be a huge step forward for everyone and it would solve all the other problems, including the problems that have been manufactured by people over the course of the last year or so."

Labour MP Ian Murray, a supporter of the People's Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: "Not only was David Trimble wrong about basic facts - Britain has not been Ireland's biggest export market for some years now - but his description of a smuggling boom as a result of Brexit as 'delightful' is a shocking misjudgement."

The Edinburgh South MP said: "In Northern Ireland, smuggling and murder were the terrible twins of the Troubles. One paid to keep the other going. No responsible politician could possibly want either to flourish and Lord Trimble's apparent belief that smuggling is in some way benign or of minimal importance is likely to make people justifiably horrified and angry."

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