Time running out for clarity over post-Brexit customs checks in Northern Ireland, EU warns the UK

Fri 1 May 2020
Posted by: Ana Pintor
Trade News

The EU says the UK must urgently clarify details of its plans for accommodating customs checks and procedures required for moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the transition period ends.

The requirement is part of the ‘Irish protocol’ contained within the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

It stipulates that checks and controls be carried out on goods crossing the Irish Sea into Northern Ireland, as a safeguard against goods illegally entering the EU’s single market via the land border with the Republic of Ireland.

EC note on timeframe

This week, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, circulated a note to member states saying that work needs to begin by 1 June on customs databases and IT systems that will allow customs and regulatory controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The note, seen by the Irish Times, says that “to avoid disruptions of business activity, the United Kingdom should urgently engage with the business community in Northern Ireland, as businesses must be able to prepare for the new requirements well in advance”.

Northern Irish business groups are also seeking clarity from the UK government on new customs arrangements and the cost of the extra paperwork involved, Irish media reports said.

‘Irish protocol’

The Irish protocol is an element of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The EC note was issued after the first meeting of a special EU-UK committee to implement the protocol earlier this week. 

Physical customs office

Irish media is also reporting that the EU and UK are in growing disagreement over the setting up of a physical EU customs office in Belfast as part of upholding the Irish protocol.

A new customs office, the EU says, would replace the European Commission’s office in the province, which closed in January along with those in Scotland and Wales following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

However, the UK government is understood to hold the view that a physical EU office in Northern Ireland is “tantamount to an infringement of sovereignty,” RTE reports