No checks in the Irish Sea? Who are you kidding, Mr Johnson?

by Hugo Dixon | 14.11.2019

Claim 1: “There will not be tariffs or checks on goods coming from GB to NI that are not going on to Ireland.”

Boris Johnson in a speech in Northern Ireland

InFact: The new Protocol that Johnson agreed with the EU makes clear that Northern Ireland will follow hundreds of EU rules to do with customs and movement of goods. Most are listed in Annex 2. Among these is a 101 page document “laying down the Union Customs Code” (UCC). (Regulation (EU) No 952/2013).

In order to make sure these rules are followed, there will have to be checks in the Irish Sea. The government’s own impact assessment says: “Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to complete both import declarations and Entry Summary (ENS) Declarations because the UK will be applying the EU’s UCC in Northern Ireland.” (See paragraph 241).

It’s true that goods will not face tariffs unless they are “at risk” of entering the EU. But the criteria for determining whether there is a risk will be decided after Brexit by a joint committee of the UK and the EU. So the EU will have a veto on the rules and could have a low tolerance for risk with the result that tariffs could be paid in cases where goods stay in Northern Ireland. (Protocol, Article 5, para 2).

Claim 2: “There will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.” 

Boris Johnson in a speech in Northern Ireland

InFact: This contradicts what his own Brexit secretary told the House of Lords in October. After initially giving the same answer as the Prime Minister, Stephen Barclay was forced to admit that “exit summary declarations will be required in terms of NI to GB.” This is because the EU’s Customs Code requires such exit declarations. (See Part D of this European Commission document).

The government’s impact assessment admits as much, saying: “Some practical information will need to be provided electronically on movement of goods West-East.” (Para 239).
After he was questioned about whether businesses would have to fill in customs declarations on goods going from NI to GB, Johnson said: “If somebody asks you to do that, tell them to ring up the Prime Minister, and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin.” Is he really going to suggest that companies break the rules he wants to agree to in an international treaty?

The headline was updated on December 4

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