Sunday 18 February 2018

Britain pushes for customs deal to avoid hard Border

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Stock picture
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The UK government will be pushing to avoid any physical Border infrastructure or posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic for any purpose following Brexit.

It has also dismissed the idea of a Border in the Irish Sea as "not constitutionally or economically viable".

In a paper to be published today, the British said their plans for a new customs partnership with the EU - in which the UK would be free to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world while maintaining free trade with the EU - would avoid the need for any Border.

Alternatively, "highly streamlined" arrangements would have to be put in place reflecting the "unique circumstances of Northern Ireland". These would ensure no new customs processes for smaller firms, and new trusted trade arrangements for larger firms.

It also proposes a continued waiver on submitting entry/exit declarations and continued membership of the common transit convention - meaning firms from Northern Ireland and the Republic would be able to move goods through the UK to mainland Europe without being hit with duties.

Read More: UK wants cake and a licence to eat it with its customs proposals

A UK government source said both sides need to show flexibility and imagination when it comes to the Border.

The UK said its position paper will also make clear plans to protect the common travel area and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

It is not clear if the paper will set out proposals for deploying technology on the Border - a scenario explicitly rejected by the Irish Government.

It follows the UK government's first position paper yesterday on future customs arrangements, in which it warns EU member states to make contingency plans to mitigate the risk of customs delays from the country crashing out of the bloc in March 2019.

It said it will slap customs duty and VAT on imports from the EU, and that the EU would have to apply the same customs rules to products from the UK, unless a trading agreement can be reached by the exit deadline.

In this scenario, the UK said it would seek to recognise the "unique circumstances" of Northern Ireland and aim to protect individuals and traders by making "maximum use of the UK's flexibility in relation to our own operation of the Border". But it said processes on the Republic's side would be "constrained by the relevant requirements of EU law".

The position paper states that the UK will bring forward a customs bill in the autumn that will give the British government the necessary powers to operate standalone customs, VAT and excise systems following its EU exit.

Read More: Britain is playing 'hokey cokey' politics over Europe - but with Brexit there will be no winners

This was not its preferred outcome, it added.

It said it wants a new customs arrangement that facilitates the most free and frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and EU, but which also allows it to forge new trade deals with Europe and the rest of the world.

In the paper, the UK outlined plans for a future customs agreement with the EU and an interim deal, possibly lasting two years, to ease companies' Brexit concerns. The interim deal would see the UK retain "close association" with the customs union, paving the way for a new arrangement, but it would be free to negotiate trade deals elsewhere - a potential problem for the EU. That new arrangement could either be a "highly streamlined" customs agreement, in which the UK would manage a new customs border with the EU, in which tariffs would be reduced or removed while the use of technology would be expanded, or it could be a new customs partnership that would avoid the need for a customs border.

Under that partnership, the UK proposes "mirroring" the EU's requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU.

Irish Independent

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