The UK government wants to see all local trade crossing the border between Northern Ireland the Republic exempt from customs duties after Brexit and “technology based solutions” put in place to monitor cross border international trade, according to a position paper released on Wednesday. Stressing the need to develop “flexible and imaginative” arrangements to avoid the return of a hard border and customs checkpoints along what will become the UK’s only land border with the EU once it leaves the bloc, the document proposes categorising the majority of border trade as local and therefore exempt from customs checks.
The paper, which was published by the Department for Exiting the EU, notes that in 2015 more than 80 percent of North/South trade in Ireland was carried out by small and micro traders with goods destined for local markets. The document envisages this trade continuing as it has done since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to hostilities in Northern Ireland and effectively erased the border with its southern neighbour.
For the remaining 20 percent of cross border trade destined for international rather than local markets, the document calls for simplified customs procedures “such as reduced declaration requirements and periodic payment of duty”.
For this to work the EU would need to agree to a proposal contained in the UK’s customs paper, whereby the UK would mirror EU standards and requirements for imports. According to today’s paper, such an arrangement would “remove the need for the UK and the EU to introduce customs processes between them, so that goods moving between the UK and the EU would be treated as they are now for customs purposes.”
As with proposals in Tuesday’s customs paper, the position paper on Northern Ireland has met with a mixed response. Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney welcomed the proposal’s clarity but cautioned that political solutions needed to come before technical ones – a position that has been echoed by the European Commission. Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill said, “I don’t believe the wider public out there will be comforted from what they read today because, whilst the British government might say they don’t want to see any kind of hard border or technology put in place, it will not be within their gift to deliver that; it will be the other European member states, who clearly think and believe we need to see customs controls”