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The UK's Protocol plan: 'Unfettered access' from NI to GB, and 'light-touch' checks from GB to NI

Unfettered access to GB from NI, and declaration on goods from GB to Northern Ireland.

THE UK HAS published its proposal for the Northern Ireland protocol and how trade could operate between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland and Great Britain after the Brexit transition period. 

Announcing that the document had been published, senior British minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons that the “command paper” implements the protocol “in a way that will protect the people and economy of Northern Ireland”.

The plan outlines four main aspects to the UK’s plan:

1. Unfettered access: Trade going from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK to “take place as it does now”. There should be no additional process or paperwork, and there will be no restrictions on Northern Ireland goods arriving in the rest of the UK, which is referred to as “unfettered access”. This would be enshrined through legislation by the end of this year, Gove said.

The document says that “it makes no sense” for NI businesses to have to fill out an export or exit summary declaration, which is taking a jab at a request from EU negotiators for this to be included.

2. No tariffs on goods going from GB to NI. “We will not levy tariffs on [Great Britain] goods remaining within the UK customs territory,” the document states. “Only those goods ultimately entering Ireland or the rest of the EU, or at clear and substantial risk of doing so, will face tariffs.”

However, there will need to be declaration on goods as they move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, Gove told MPs. “These systems will be electronic and administered by UK authorities… It would be [up to] our authorities to determine any processes required using technology, risk and compliance requirements,” he said.

What Gove means by this is that the Protocol would see UK authorities applying EU customs rules to goods entering Northern Ireland. If they remain in Northern Ireland, businesses will be reimbursed any tariffs paid on goods. If the goods continue on to the Ireland/ the EU, then the tariff costs remain.

This seems to be an admission that there will be checks of sorts between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but they will be “light-touch”. 

3. No new customs infrastructure will be involved in the implementation of the Protocol, both Gove and the document said. For agrifood and live animal movements, they may require building on what “already happens” at ports in Larne and Belfast, he added. “There is no such case for new customs infrastructure,” Gove said.

4. Trade with Northern Ireland from third countries: Where the UK has new Free Trade Agreements with other countries, Northern Ireland businesses “will benefit” from preferential tariffs just as the rest of the UK will, the document says.

When asked about the cost of the new checks, Gove said that he was working with to make sure they are as “light-touch, effective and unobtrusive” as possible.

He said that Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom was “constitutionally secure”.  

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Criticisms in the Commons

In response to a question from former Prime Minister Theresa May, Gove says Northern Ireland will be asked to abide by some EU regulations on certain goods until 2024 at the earliest, and potentially indefinitely.

Gove also replied to this that they would have the option of voting these measures down in 2024, if they proved ineffective or obtrusive.

Tommy Sheppard from the Scottish National Party has said that Scotland would “happily” take the arrangements organised for the North “if they don’t want it”.

According to figures in the paper, nearly 23,000 NI businesses trade to and from Great Britain, and Northern Ireland goods sales to Great Britain are worth £8.1bn. Trade with GB comprises 56% of Northern Ireland’s total external trade in goods – making it its largest market.

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