Monday 22 July 2019

'Ask Irish for advice,' UK government tells cross-Border firms

British will seek bi-lateral accord in event of no-deal Brexit

Dominic Raab wants a Border deal with Irish Government. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Dominic Raab wants a Border deal with Irish Government. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Shona Murray

The British government has indicated it would seek bi-lateral arrangements with Ireland in dealing with the Border should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.

It has also recommended that any business conducting cross-Border trade on the island of Ireland seek advice from the Irish Government about the type of preparation required for a "doomsday" scenario.

UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab released the first tranche of "technical notices" detailing preparations for a no-deal Brexit yesterday.

During the subsequent press conference, he reiterated Britain's commitment to its obligation under the Good Friday Agreement.

"We're saying loud and clear that we won't allow anything to disrupt the terms of the Belfast Agreement or return to any form of hard border, at the Border," Mr Raab said.

"And that's a clear commitment and we have no intention of relenting from it."

However, the long-time Brexiteer gave no detail on how this could be technically or legally administered, given that Ireland would be in the EU and the UK would be a third country. Both sides have a legal requirement to erect a border.

When asked if that meant making special arrangements for Northern Ireland, Mr Raab said: "I'm not quite sure what it would look like so I'm not going to hypothetically rule it in or out."

He also said the UK would continue its discussions with individual EU member states should no wider agreement materialise from ongoing EU and UK talks.

However, the Irish Government is resolute that it will only engage on matters relating to Brexit as part of the EU 27. This is in particular to where trade, customs and regulations are concerned which are sole competencies of the EU.

The UK technical assessments say "the UK government is clear that in this scenario we must respect our unique relationship with Ireland, with whom we share a land border and who are co-signatories of the Belfast Agreement".

"We're glad they're finally recognising this as an emergency and are coming to terms with the nightmare that will ensue if they crash out," said an Irish Brexit source.

The Irish Government's plan to start employing the first of 1,000 customs officials will begin before Christmas.

However, the British administration is advising businesses to contact Irish Government offices if they're worried about the impact of WTO rules which would apply if negotiations fail.

"We would recommend that, if you trade across the land border, you should consider whether you will need advice from the Irish Government about preparations you need to make," says the document.

The reach of a hard Brexit is vast - for example, the cost of credit card payments would surge immediately as the UK would no longer be included in the EU's ban on hidden credit card surcharges.

An EU directive introduced in January stopped the practice of retailers, airlines and other businesses hitting shoppers with hidden surcharges when they use credit or debit cards - sometimes as high as 20pc.

In addition, the documents reveal British citizens living abroad could lose access to their bank accounts.

If no prior arrangement is put in place, UK banks would lose access to EU payments systems.

"Customers (including business using these providers to process euro payments) could face increased costs and slower processing times for euro transactions," says the document on financial transactions.

The British government is recommending that businesses trading with the EU should start planning for new customs checks and invest in new software or logistical help.

"Free circulation of goods between the UK and EU would cease," it said.

It is expected that another two tranches of more than 80 documents in total will be released in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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