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UK Government has published a paper on how it intends to implement these Protocols, which will apply from the end of the transition period, with or without an EU trade deal being agreed.

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory, and its imports will be subject to the new tariff regime and can additionally benefit from any trade deal struck by the British government. However, to ensure there is no return to a hard border in Ireland, Northern Ireland will also have to apply the EU’s customs code at its ports, including EU tariffs and regulatory controls, on any trade intending to or “at risk” of crossing the border into the EU.

For trade going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, the paper concedes that new controls and administration will be necessary. It states:

  • Goods heading to the EU through Northern Ireland or goods “at a clear and substantial risk of doing so” will have to pay tariffs at the ports upon entry into the region, where tariffs apply. What constitutes a “substantial risk” is yet to be formally agreed by the EU-UK joint committee. However, the EU asserts that it refers to any good to which the UK applies a lower tariff than the EU. Meanwhile the UK argues that businesses should be able to certify that it is selling goods in Northern Ireland alone, including for example raw products processed in Northern Ireland and re-exported and agri-food products shipped to supermarkets in Northern Ireland.
  • Where companies can prove that their goods have remained in Northern Ireland and not crossed the border but they have been subject to the EU tariff, they will be entitled to compensation of the difference between the EU and the UK tariff. Guidelines on this are not yet provided.
  • Existing infrastructure in Northern Ireland (used to conduct regulatory checks on livestock movements) will be expanded to carry out controls on agri-food products entering the region – namely at Belfast port and at Larne Port which will be designated for live animal transport. However no new infrastructure will be built. This has raised some concerns in Brussels and in Dublin of the capacity and willingness of the UK to implement the EU’s customs code in full across all goods and ensure compliance with EU standards.
  • A new electronic import declaration would need to be submitted for good entering Northern Ireland, amongst other new potential administrative requirements. However, the UK commits to streamlining and simplifying the process and to reviewing it annually. The exact processes for businesses to use for this administration has yet to be clarified.
  • The paper however rejects the EU’s request that both Northern Ireland and British business submit export summary declarations in order to track what goods are entering and leaving the region (and therefore at risk of ending up on the EU’s market).
  • These principles will also apply for trade coming from third Countries into Northern Ireland.

For trade going from Northern Ireland to the UK:

  • Businesses will continue to have “unfettered access” to the rest of the UK market, without additional tariffs, paperwork, controls or restrictions. Essentially trade will continue as it does now.
  • These arrangements do not apply to goods from Ireland travelling to Great Britain. This trade will be subject to the UK’s customs and regulatory regime, the extent of which will be determined by the outcome of the trade agreement currently under negotiation.
  • For cross border business, whether their trade qualifies for “unfettered access” or not will be determined by the UK government together with the Northern Ireland Executive at a later point.

These proposals will now be discussed within the EU-UK Joint Committee established under the Withdrawal Agreement and are likely to be adjusted in accordance with the EU’s view on their effectiveness in terms of upholding the Withdrawal Agreement and protecting the integrity of the EU Single Market. Key issues in the discussion will be the determination of an “at risk” good, the need for export declarations and the matter of regulatory clearance on goods leaving Britain for Northern Ireland.

The UK Government will also establish in the coming weeks, a business engagement forum, which will meet regularly to allow Northern Ireland’s businesses put forward proposals and provide feedback on how to maximise the free flow of trade.

Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive