EU says existing checks on some agricultural imports would have to intensify
Existing checks on agricultural goods travelling between Great Britain and the North of Ireland would have to increase ten-fold after Brexit, the EU’s chief negotiator has said – an ultimatum that is likely to enrage Northern Irish unionists and eurosceptics.
Speaking to business leaders in Brussels, Michel Barnier laid out new details about the EU’s updated plan to find a solution to the Irish border issue – which is threatening to sink talks and cause a no-deal.
The intensification of the checks is highly unlikely to be accepted by the DUP, who have said they will use their crucial Commons votes against any deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.
Mr Barnier said customs and VAT details could be filled out online by traders and that the only physical checks needed for them would be the scanning of a barcode on a ferry across the Irish sea or at a port. He said such checks “already exist in many EU member states – such as between mainland Spain and the Canary islands”.
The negotiator also said the EU believed regulatory compliance checks for industrial goods could be carried out at the premises of businesses.
But Mr Barnier warned that so-called phytosanitary checks on live animals and other agricultural products had to be carried out at the border, and would have to apply to 100 per cent of all imports. Some of these checks already exist, but they are only conducted as spot-checks and applied to just 10 per cent of imports.
“EU rules are very clear: such checks must happen at the border because of food safety and animal health reasons,” he told business leaders.
EU rules are very clear: such checks must happen at the border because of food safety and animal health reasons
Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator
“Obviously in the future the island of Ireland will remain and must remain a simple epidemiologic area, obviously.
“Such checks already exist in the port of Larne and Belfast. However they would have to cover 100 per cent rather than 10 per cent of live animals and animal-derived products, which would involve a significant change in terms of scale.”
He added that there would have to be “administrative procedures that do not exist today” but that “the EU proposes to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible”.
“The UK wants to leave and will leave the single market and customs union. This means that there must be checks on goods travelling between the EU and the UK and checks that do not exist today,” he warned.
Mr Barnier said such checks could be reduced in scope in the future if the UK and EU signed a veterinary agreement down the line as part of a trade deal.
Brussels is currently in an information lockdown for the final stages of talks, with officials tighter-lipped than usual about progress coming towards a solution.
But the DUP has made clear that it does not see things the same way, meaning a deal could be agreed between the government and EU and then voted down by Ms May’s allies in the Commons.
British officials are currently in Brussels for talks.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has done a tour of EU figures today and yesterday to make her party’s views on the Ireland issue known.
Theresa May will come to Brussels next week for a summit, which the EU has described as the “moment of truth”. Brussels says the outlines of a deal must be ready in time for that meeting, and that – if they are – a special emergency summit could be called in November to finalise it. Briefing senior Commission officials on Wednesday Mr Barnier said “decisive progress” would be required for a November summit.
With many thanks to: The Independent and Jon Stone, Brussels, for the original story@joncstone
There will be border checks on trade inside the UK under the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson, the EU’s chief negotiator has said.
Michel Barnier confirmed there would be “checks and controls” between Britain and Northern Ireland under the agreement that will govern the UK’s exit from the EU.
Boris Johnson falsely claimed several times during the general election campaign that there would be no checks on the Irish sea, and was accused by the opposition of lying.
Whether the prime minister had misunderstood the agreement he had signed or was indeed lying to the public, the text of the deal signed in November is clear that there will indeed be checks.
“The implementation of this foresees checks and controls entering the island of Ireland,” Mr Barnier said during a sitting of the European Parliament.
“I look forward to constructive cooperation with British authorities to ensure that all provisions are respected and made operational.”
Mr Barnier had kept quiet during the UK general election campaign, telling anyone who asked him – even in private – that he did not want to say anything that could have political impact and undermine his Brexit deal.
Mr Johnson repeated his claim just on Monday, telling a press conference: “Be in no doubt. We are the government of the United Kingdom. I cannot see any circumstances whatever in which they will be any need for checks on goods going from the North of Ireland to GB.
“The only circumstances in which you could imagine the need for checks coming from GB to NI, as I’ve explained before, is if those goods were going on into Ireland and we had not secured, which I hope and I’m confident we will, a zero-tariff, zero-quota agreement with our friends and partners in the EU.”
During the election campaign he was even more emphatic, saying: “We will make sure that businesses face no extra costs and no checks for stuff being exported from NI to GB.”
But his analysis does not accurately reflect what is in the Brexit deal he signed.
The government’s own internal analysis, leaked during the general election campaign, said there would be checks on goods in both directions between the two parts of the UK.
It also said there would be a devastating impact on the North of Ireland economy and claimed 98 per cent of Northern Ireland export businesses would be “likely to struggle to bear this cost” of customs declarations and documentary and physical checks on goods within the UK.
With many thanks to: The Independent and Jon Stone Brussels, for the original story@joncstone
The British border in Ireland could yet snag Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, with experts saying it will be impossible to deliver the computer systems for the special arrangements for Northern Ireland by the end of this year. Failure to implement the new systems will risk legal action by the European commission against Britain, the Institute for Government says.
In a new report, it says: “The [Brexit] deal has the support of no Northern Irish political parties and it looks almost impossible to complete the practical changes, for government and business, by the end of the year. Failure to comply with the withdrawal agreement could see the European commission begin infringement proceedings and the UK ending up at the ECJ [European court of justice].”
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Johnson’s government remains adamant that there will be no checks or new reporting systems on trade crossing the Irish sea, despite Ireland and the EU insisting that those would have to be in place to protect the Irish border.
The prime minister’s intention to establish a trade deal with the EU by the end of December 2020 was also dealt a blow by Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, at the weekend as he indicated the bloc would be in no rush to work to Johnson’s timetable.
In a blunt assessment of the likelihood of satisfying Johnson’s “ambitious” vision, he said the fact that Britain had put the timescale for a trade deal into law did not mean the other 27 European countries would fall in line. “In my view, it’s probably going to take longer than a year,” he said.
The IfG’s report says HMRC has previously stated similar systems to the proposed customs arrangements for the North of Ireland would take five years to develop and implement.
Part of the problem is that until the new trade deal between the UK and the EU is struck, the details of the North of Ireland arrangements cannot be finalised.
The complicated system for the North of Ireland involves the region effectively staying in the single market but in the UK customs zone. This potentially means tariff charges and rebates, paperwork and physical checks on certain fresh foods and live animals going from Great Britain to the North of Ireland.
In the new report, “Getting Brexit done: what happens now?”, the IfG says Brexit will be far from done on 31 January when the UK formally leaves the EU with the expected ratification of the withdrawal agreement ending the article 50 process.
“The UK will formally leave the EU at the end of January, and in that sense Brexit will be done, but many of the biggest Brexit jobs will be far from over,” it says. “It will continue to dominate government for years to come. The prime minister may hope to end Brexit’s dominance in the public debate after 31 January, but in Whitehall it will continue to be the biggest and most challenging task faced by a government in decades.”
Under the deal sealed by Johnson with the EU last October, animals and fresh food going from Great Britain to the North of Ireland will be subject to some physical checks, with a tariff and tariff rebate system operating for the first time. These are there to protect any substandard goods seeping into the EU’s single market through smuggling over the Irish border into the Republic of Ireland.
While all sides recognise the complexities of the new system, little public attention has been paid to the fact that new computer systems cannot be designed by either HMRC, ferry companies, or manufacturers or suppliers like Tesco until the trade deal with the EU is done.
The report says: “With the details of how the border will operate still unclear – and likely to be so for some months – and no preparatory work having happened for checks between Great Britain and the North of Ireland, the 11-month timeline is almost certainly undeliverable.”
It notes that Sir Jon Thompson, a former chief executive of HMRC, said that a similar customs systems involving rebates could take up to five years to develop and implement.
Coveney issued his warning on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, saying the deal to be struck between the UK and EU over their future relationship was vast, encompassing security, data, aviation and trade.
He said: “When people talk about the future relationship in the UK in particular, they seem to only talk about a future trade agreement. Actually, there’s much more to this than that … I know that Johnson has set a very ambitious timetable to get this done – he’s even put it into British law – but just because a British parliament decides that British law says something, doesn’t mean that that law applies to the other 27 countries of the European Union.
“And so the European Union will approach this on the basis of getting the best deal possible, a fair and balanced deal, to ensure that the UK and the EU can interact as friends in the future. But the EU will not be rushed on this just because Britain passes a law.”
With many thanks to: The Guardian and Lisa O’Carroll and Kate Proctor for the original story