From what we know, the scheme is far from straightforward and implementation will take timeby David Henig / October 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
If you’re confused by the latest Brexit plan, which seems to involve Northern Ireland being simultaneously both in and out of both the EU and UK customs zones, then fear not, you are far from alone. For in obscure corners of social media and face-to-face at various trade events in the last few days, specialists have been asking various questions, trying to understand what it is the UK government seems to be proposing.
The outline plan was enough to persuade the EU to enter serious talks, unlike the previous ideas of alternative border arrangements based around technology. It was enough for Leo Varadkar to join Boris Johnson in seeing a pathway to a Brexit summit. There’s obviously something to it, so let’s examine what that could be.
It is worth first recalling the scope for a solution, in other words the red lines that both the UK and EU have set down. For while each side may prefer that the other would change these, they seem well set at least for the current administrations. For the EU this means no border infrastructure or associated goods checks on the island of Ireland, and protection of the single market. UK red lines are that there must be no UK-EU customs union, free trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and some form of consent from Northern Ireland to relations.
As is well known by now, though, every border in the world between countries not in a customs union has infrastructure and associated checks. Therefore any solution based on stated red lines is going to be unprecedented. The Johnson government first suggested checks away from the border combined with surveillance, the so-called alternative arrangements, but this was rejected by the EU due to the perceived threat of smuggling and basic unacceptability of checks on the island of Ireland.
The UK appears to have thus revived an earlier plan from Theresa May’s Chequers document, the Facilitated Customs Arrangement, though to be applied just to Northern Ireland rather than the whole UK as originally conceived. The broad outline of this plan seems relatively simple: goods imported into Northern Ireland from outside the EU would pay the EU’s tariff if they are going on to be exported to the EU, but…