Key questions about Government’s Northern Ireland Brexit proposals answered

The UK Government has published proposals on implementing Northern Ireland provisions in the EU Withdrawal Agreement designed to keep trade in agricultural and manufactured goods aligned with that of the Republic of Ireland’s.

Here are the answers to some key questions.

– Will businesses have a lot of extra red tape?

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, overseeing the Government’s Brexit response, said: “Although there will be some new administrative requirements, these processes will be streamlined and simplified to the maximum extent.”

He added: “This paper sets out how we believe the protocol can be implemented in a flexible, and proportionate way – protecting the interests of both the whole UK and the EU.

“Our proposals will deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market; ensure there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory; discharge our obligations without the need for any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland and, finally, guarantee that Northern Ireland businesses benefit from the lower tariffs we deliver through our new free trade agreements with third countries.”

– How does the Government intend to ensure unfettered access?

Only those goods ultimately entering Ireland or the rest of the EU, or at clear and substantial risk of doing so, will face tariffs.

There will be some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland, using “all flexibilities and discretion”.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is overseeing the Government’s Brexit response (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

There will be no new physical customs infrastructure but some existing entry points for agri-food goods will “expand” to provide for “proportionate” additional controls.

And no import customs declarations, tariffs or entry summaries as goods enter the rest of the UK from Northern Ireland.

– Will it be complicated to do?

The Government has said, for example, that a supermarket delivering to its stores in Northern Ireland poses no “risk” to the EU market whatsoever, and that no tariffs would be owed for such trade.

In many cases, goods could automatically be classified as internal UK trade, particularly where a business could certify it was selling its goods in Northern Ireland and not the EU.

Government would “waive and/or reimburse” tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, even where they were classified as “at risk” of entering the EU market.

A ferry in Belfast Port
Processes on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would be kept to an ‘absolute minimum’, the UK Government said (Niall Carson/PA)

Using “sophisticated” data on trade flows for goods entering Northern Ireland it would work with the Irish authorities to tackle smuggling with the latest technology.

– The protocol means UK authorities apply EU customs rules to goods entering Northern Ireland?

This entails some “streamlined and simplified” new administrative process for traders, new electronic import declaration requirements, and safety and security information for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, the document stated.

These were needed to ensure tariffs were not paid on trade within the UK and that goods going to Ireland paid them when they should.

These would be reviewed annually in case they imposed a disproportionate burden.

– Will new checkpoints be introduced?

The UK checks 4% of third-country movements notified through customs declarations, with less than 1% involving physical inspections of consignments.

Northern Ireland border
The Government said its proposals would deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market (David Young/PA)

The report added: “Clearly goods from the rest of the UK will not present a similar level of risk to third-country movements.”

The Government expects to request additional categories of commodities at Belfast Port and to designate Larne Port in Co Antrim for live animal imports.

There would be no construction at points of entry where no plant or animal health checks are currently carried out.

– What about the EU?

The UK Government will not agree to a permanent EU office in Northern Ireland.

It said: “Such a presence would risk being perceived as a return to joint controls and would be divisive in political and community terms.

“It is also unnecessary for the protocol to work properly.”

The UK said it was for elected institutions in Northern Ireland to decide what happened to the protocol’s provisions every four years.

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