Home Secretary to seek clarity on goods checks between Northern Ireland and GB

The Home Secretary has been unable to clarify what checks will take place on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain after Brexit, as she refused to be drawn on what she said was a “hypothetical” situation.

Priti Patel, who did not rule out the involvement of Border Force officers, said she would seek clarification on the matter, after her appearance at the Home Affairs Committee failed to clear up confusion around the issue.

Her inability to shed any light came after Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith insisted that checks will be minimal after Brexit, but he too was unable to give any further detail on the nature of the checks.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has insisted that there will be no checks and no tariffs between Northern Ireland and GB.

At the committee hearing to discuss Home Office preparations for Brexit, Ms Patel was asked by MP Stephen Doughty if Border Force officers will be involved in checking, either in person or electronically, exit declarations from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

She said the situation “depends on various circumstances”, adding: “I’m not going to speak about hypothetical situations right now.”

Mr Doughty said: “With the greatest respect, this is not a hypothetical situation. This is what the Brexit Secretary has confirmed to a select committee in the House of Lords, and to myself and the chair of the Brexit committee on the floor of the House, that there will be exit checks required on goods transiting from Northern Ireland to GB, so within our own country.

“And I’m asking you, are Border Force officials going to be involved in that?”

Ms Patel replied: “We are not there yet, so this is the point to make, we are simply not there in that situation.”

Boris Johnson had previously said fresh regulatory and customs checks in the Irish Sea would not happen on his watch.

Earlier this month, he received a rousing reception at the DUP conference when he vowed not to create any new economic borders in the Irish Sea.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pushed the PM to confirm if checks would take place for goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, to which Mr Johnson replied: “The United Kingdom is preserved whole and entire by these arrangements and indeed the whole of the UK will come out of the European Union customs union so we can do free trade deals together.

“There will be no checks between Northern Ireland and GB and there will be no tariffs between Northern Ireland and GB.”

Boris Johnson answers Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson answers Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

Businesses shipping from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are already facing customs and regulatory checks.

On Monday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay acknowledged that products moving the other way will also encounter added paperwork, in the form of exit summary declarations, having previously insisted the route would be frictionless.

The declarations record what is leaving Northern Ireland and entering the Great Britain market, for safety and security purposes.

Asked about customs checks, Paul Lincoln, director general at Border Force, told the Home Affairs Committee: “It’s not been decided whether or not we will do checks as an organisation. If goods are moving from GB to Northern Ireland they will have to make declarations.”

Ms Patel said HMRC would “take the lead” on this issue.

Asked by Mr Doughty if the Brexit Secretary is correct in what he said about checks – that exit summary declarations will be required from Northern Ireland to Great Britain – Ms Patel said: “That, I will get clarification on.”

Ms Patel said HMRC would be contacted about the issue on Wednesday afternoon.

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