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'There will not be checks': Boris Johnson hails 'great Northern Ireland deal' at Tayto Castle Factory

“I speak as the Prime Minister of the UK and a passionate unionist, there will not be checks on goods going from NI to GB!”

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has said that there has been “great misunderstandings” about the custom arrangements between the UK and Ireland, and has in turn been accused of misunderstanding those custom arrangements himself. 

Johnson struck a last-minute Brexit divorce deal with the EU on 17 October, allowing Northern Ireland to remain “aligned” to the EU’s Customs Union, but effectively remaining part of the UK’s custom territory, meaning it would benefit from any future Free Trade Deals. 

Speaking to at the Tayto Castle Factory in Tandragee, Co Armagh yesterday, Johnson said the following in a private setting (and openly to the British media):

“There will not be tariffs or checks on goods coming from GB to NI that are not going on to Ireland, that’s the whole point. 

The great thing that’s been misunderstood about this whole thing is – there will not be checks, there will not be checks, and I speak as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a passionate unionist, there will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain! Because we’re the government of the UK, and we will not institute, or enact such checks. 

“The idea that Tayto crisps from Tandragee are going to be affected by some process is just nonsense, so actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal.

“You keep free movement, you keep access to the Single Market, but you also, as it says in the deal, have unfettered access to GB. We can also come out and do Free Traders (sic).”

Johnson said that there would be “limited” checks on good coming from GB to NI, because “you have to have some way of checking that goods that might attract a tariff from the UK to Ireland, and pay that tariff if there’s to be a tariff”.  

Johnson has come under criticism for saying that there would be “no checks” and “unfettered” access from NI to GB, as well as saying that this is a “great deal” for Northern Ireland.

Here’s a quick look at whether this is fair.

What is in the new Brexit deal?

general-election-2019 Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Tayto Castle Factory while on the election campaign trail. Source: Stefan Rousseau

Johnson managed to renegotiate his predecessor Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement by removing the backstop and replacing it with a customs arrangement that would see Northern Ireland remain in the UK’s custom territory, but would remain aligned to the EU’s rules in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

This would mean that if goods are sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, no tariffs apply. If goods are sent from Great Britain through Northern Ireland to Ireland, tariffs will apply, but they will be collected at ports and airports – effectively putting a customs border along the Irish Sea.

An economic expert said that rebated tariffs for Northern Ireland could be worth £500 million a year, which could cripple Northern Ireland’s SME-driven business sector.

Concerns have also been expressed about businesses that would find it hard to prove where its goods end up and ‘remain’, and so might not be rebated appropriately. 

If those same goods from Great Britain move on from Northern Ireland to Ireland, they face EU tariffs (or taxes) as they’re leaving the UK’s custom territory. 

For goods travelling from Ireland to Northern Ireland, there are no tariffs and no checks at the border, and there is an all-island arrangement for SPS checks (animal and plant standards), and an all-island regulatory zone (manufactured goods).

For goods travelling from Ireland through Northern Ireland to Great Britain, there would be tariffs collected at the Irish Sea customs border.

Will there be checks from NI to GB? 

general-election-2019 Source: PA Wire/PA Images

There are two main reasons for why there could be checks on goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

Firstly, British authorities would have responsibility for the NI to GB checks, so that question depends on how rigorously the British government wants to check whether EU goods are filtering into the UK illegally post-Brexit.

It’s quite possible that goods from Ireland and the rest of the EU would easily end up in the UK post-Brexit, if no checks are carried out by UK authorities at ports or airports, as Johnson has claimed would happen above. 

The reason why British authorities would want to enforce this, is in order to strike new Free Trade Deals. If the origin of goods in the UK market isn’t certain, other countries could express concern over trading in that market, and it could hamper trade talks.

If there are no checks, it would mean Irish manufacturers could also have access to Great Britain’s market without paying tariffs they should, putting small competing businesses in the rest of the UK at a comparative disadvantage. 

Secondly, checks might need to be carried out in order to decide whether tariffs should be applied to goods, and whether they’re being applied correctly. In short, a product that doesn’t require a tariff to be paid, might need to be checked in order to confirm this. 

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Goods Northern Ireland Source: House of Commons

In the House of Commons, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said that checks would be necessary from GB to NI, “to ensure the correct tariffs are applied, and that goods comply with the rules of the single regulatory zone”.

This logic can also apply in the other direction, although Barclay didn’t say so.

He stressed the little paperwork that would be needed for GB to NI checks, saying that it “will be done digitally and is a single form, rather than actually introducing physical checks” (though checks may be needed to ensure goods have that paperwork done).”

In the coming months, work with UK and EU will continue on how to eliminate the limited administrative processes there are,” he assured MPs.

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