Welsh farmers may sue if Brexit leads to food smuggling

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has said it will consider legal action against the UK government if Brexit leads to an increase in food smuggling.

The organisation insists that customs controls must be maintained to prevent tariff-free imports flooding into the country over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

At a meeting to discuss damaging declines in cattle prices, FUW president Glyn Roberts said Welsh farmers had made their concerns known repeatedly to the government, and won’t hesitate to take the issue to the courts if their livelihood is threatened further.

Draft import tariff rates and the proposal to allow tariff-free imports from the Republic to Northern Ireland were published in March, and are viewed as unfair because a no-deal Brexit could see World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs levied on UK farmers exporting to the EU27.

“We have…queried the legality of setting tariffs at zero on the Irish land border, and highlighted the likelihood that this would open a back-door to smuggling onto the mainland unless customs controls at ports such as Liverpool are enforced rigidly,” said Roberts.

Preparations to enforce controls appear to be “minimal”, despite the looming October 31 Brexit date. Even in a no-deal Brexit, there will be obligations under WTO rules to ensure compliance with tariffs.

Roberts voiced the concern that filing to introduce proper border checks could amount to the ‘decriminalisation’ of smuggling into Great Britain.

“We have already discussed with others the possibility of legal action if this happens and we are confident that it would be an open-and-shut case,” he said.

“The obvious way around this is to ensure that we do not leave the EU without a deal, as continues to be threatened by the Prime Minister despite the legislation that has been put in place to prevent this happening.”

Last year, a report suggested that a UK government plan to suspend food regulations as part of its contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit could encourage food fraudsters to take advantage of the laxer regulatory environment.

And in April a Which report warned that dangerous counterfeit and otherwise illegal products could flood into the UK if the UK doesn’t leave the EU in an orderly fashion and is excluded from key tools such as the European Commission’s Safety Gate rapid warning system and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

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