The PM has promised unfettered trade between GB and NI but as experts make clear, his guarantees do not withstand scrutinyby Alex Dean / January 31, 2020 / Leave a comment
The status of Northern Ireland has proved one of the thorniest questions of the Brexit process. Theresa May’s attempt to carve out a special deal for the province sunk her premiership. We now enter the transition with Boris Johnson claiming he has struck the perfect agreement, which avoids a land frontier while guaranteeing unfettered access for NI and GB firms. All four parts of the UK have apparently left on equal terms; there will be no barriers to goods crossing the Irish sea.
This is a vital principle for an avowedly unionist prime minister. Yet critics accuse him of misrepresenting the truth. Northern Ireland will effectively be enforcing EU customs rules, they say, meaning paperwork and checks and controls will be required for goods crossing this border. GB and NI firms will soon face new frictions and the UK’s internal market will be compromised. The row has grown increasingly heated in recent weeks, especially after chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated that the EU expects substantial controls.
Who is right? Having spoken to politicians, civil service chiefs and independent experts in GB and NI it is the consensus position that Johnson’s promises ring hollow. A definite consequence of his deal is friction on the Irish sea border once the transition ends, with all the implications that that has for the integrity of the UK internal market. The only question is the extent of this. It is a shame the prime minister continues to obfuscate, and his decision to do so risks storing up trouble for the future.
The issue arises in the first place because of the need to avoid a hard Irish land border after Brexit. If Britain hopes to diverge from the EU then there will need to be some frontier between the two territories to protect the integrity of the EU’s market, but a land border is fraught with historic difficulty. Putting the border in the Irish sea is an alternative but is highly controversial with unionists, with the government keen to stress that formalities will be minimal. What is the reality?
For his part, Johnson has several times rebutted the idea his deal creates friction of any kind, saying at the outset “There’s no question of there being checks on goods going NI/GB or GB/NI”…