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Rees-Mogg's research group unveils 'solution' to prevent Northern Ireland hard border

Edmund Heaphy
Ireland Correspondent
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group says it has a proposal for the Northern Ireland Border issue. Photo: Reuters

Mobile tax inspections teams could conduct post-Brexit inland customs clearance in Northern Ireland as part of a plan to prevent a hard border published by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group.

The group released its proposal at a press conference in Westminster today (12 September), and said that UK prime minister Theresa May’s government had “failed to challenge the position taken by the EU” on the border in Northern Ireland. Two former Northern Ireland secretaries, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers, spoke at the event.

Under a Canada-style free-trade agreement, the hardline Eurosceptic group suggests that country of origin declarations on invoices and “Trusted Trader” schemes, which would give larger companies the opportunity to self-regulate, could be used in conjunction with these teams, who would inspect a small percentage of imports.

Common regulations for agriculture

For agricultural goods, both the UK and EU should form a “Common Biosecurity Zone” on the island of Ireland and agree to conformity of regulations such that the “current smooth movement” of goods could be continued, the group suggests. “Since UK and EU standards are identical and will remain identical at the point of departure, determining equivalence after Brexit should be straightforward,” the proposal says.

Simplified customs procedures

With respect to other types of goods, the proposal contends that, because the vast majority of goods are not imported from outside the EU to Northern Ireland with a view to transporting them elsewhere, issues regarding declarations of origin “should not be a major issue on the border.” Traders in Northern Ireland, the proposal says, could thus conduct customs declarations on their own premises based on invoices, which would state the country of origin of the goods as part of an international system known as the Registered Exporter (REX) scheme.

The proposal notes that because the EU’s customs code allows for alternatives to customs clearance at borders, this could be combined with transit declarations and a follow-up declaration once the goods arrive at their destination. This, the proposal contends, would allow for the transport of goods to their destination “without fulfilling any formalities at the border.” 

“If customs want to inspect the goods, mobile teams can do so when the goods are declared as they are loaded or unloaded,” the proposal says.

DUP welcomes proposal

A statement released by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which, under a supply-and-confidence deal, is propping up May’s government in the House of Commons, said the proposal was a “positive and timely development.” DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, an MP for Belfast North, said that the paper makes clear that “there are sensible practical measures which can ensure there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.”

British businesses call it a ‘disappointing effort’

In a statement, the deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, Josh Hardie, said that local firms in Northern Ireland will welcome “recognition of the importance of the Irish border issue,” but called the paper a “disappointing effort.” The proposals, he said, are “too superficial to be of use in practice.” It is also based on the erroneous premise that a Canada-style free trade deal would be “desirable,” he noted. “UK businesses have been abundantly clear that such a relationship is an ocean away from what is needed to protect prosperity.”

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