Monday 18 November 2019

UK vows to keep 'land bridge' open post-Brexit

Free flow of goods more important to British authorities than collecting tariffs, senior customs official reveals

Fast-track: Boris Johnson wants to do the Brexit deal at the earliest date. Picture: AP
Fast-track: Boris Johnson wants to do the Brexit deal at the earliest date. Picture: AP

Shawn Pogatchnik

UK customs authorities say they will keep the haulage 'land bridge' open post-Brexit, including by processing paperwork while trucks are at sea, or even waving trucks through checks.

A senior UK customs official told the Irish Independent yesterday that British authorities are determined that trucks will still travel quickly from Ireland to continental Europe through the UK's ports, regardless of the Brexit outcome.

The official said businesses here should keep preparing for a possible no-deal outcome because such preparations "make you as ready as possible for a deal as well".

Keeping the land bridge open has been a significant concern for Ireland, with approximately 70pc of goods exports and imports traversing the UK by land as the fastest route to market - and for many perishable goods, it is the only practical option. Shipping routes around the UK are typically costlier and twice as slow.

Irish trucks will continue to move even if there is a crash-out, no-deal Brexit, the official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said.

The UK has already decided that in the absence of agreed rules, the free flow of goods would take higher priority to collecting tariffs.

"Customs declarations and the associated paperwork can be done afterwards," he said. "If you arrive at Holyhead and you don't have all the paperwork done and dusted, you won't be turned back or impounded.

"You will get waved through with a kind of: 'Please can you sort out customs processes within four weeks?'."

He said it would be a top priority to keep markets, businesses and shops supplied, "rather than being able to say it's 100pc customs controls at the stroke of midnight".

The official, who is also co-ordinating Brexit plans at the Calais-Dover end of the land bridge, said Irish, British and EU hauliers using the route would be encouraged to submit customs declarations electronically in advance of arrival at busy ports, including Dublin and Holyhead.

He compared the process to transatlantic airline passengers having to submit passport details online days or weeks before flying.

Even trucks found to have provided inadequate advance declarations on the goods being carried could complete this process on board the ferry between Irish and UK ports.

The busiest East-West shipping route is a 120km journey from Dublin to Holyhead that typically takes around three hours.

"The UK government has decided that it's better to take a risk on missing some of the revenue that should be paid, versus keeping goods flowing as much as possible," the official said.

The latest Brexit proposals in effect shift enforcement of Irish and Northern Ireland customs to ports, which the official said was better than checks on land borders. Ireland's border had "more crossing points than from the Arctic Circle down to the Bosphorus", he said.

"When a truck is in a port, it's a single point of entry within a controlled environment. You can check the paperwork and open up the back of the truck. Trying to do that on the land border somewhere in South Armagh is obviously a non-runner," he said, noting that the current Brexit agreement "focuses on the port-to-port space, rather than trying to do it in back roads in border areas".

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