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Boris proposes all-island regulatory zone-updated

[ October 2, 2019   //   ]

PM proposes all-island customs zone

British Prime Minister Boris Johson is suggesting an “all-island regulatory zone” with Northern Ireland following EU rules for trade in goods in his bit to break the impasse over Brexit, the BBC reports.

Checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would not apply when goods enter Ireland from Northern Ireland. The UK would not apply corresponding checks or controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Ireland.

However, Northern Ireland would no longer be in the EU customs union, necessitating a customs border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, although the government argues that most could be automated with a small number of physical checks, possibly at traders’ premises.

The Stormont Assembly – Northern Ireland’s parliament – would have to vote to accept the proposals and this would be repeated every four years.

The government is also promising finance to help Northern Ireland manage the changes.

In its explanatory note, published on 2 October, the Government said it would “provide for the creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering not just sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and agri-food rules but all goods, thus eliminating regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland.” But it would be dependent on the consent of those who live under it, through the Northern Ireland institutions.

It would also “ensure that Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory, not the EU customs territory, after the end of the transition period, with all customs processes necessary to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes taking place electronically, and with the small number of physical checks needed conducted at traders’ premises or other points on the supply chain. This should be coupled with a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future.”

A zone of regulatory compliance across Northern Ireland and the EU would remove the need for checks and related infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, while enabling the UK and EU to maintain their own distinct customs regimes, it said.

At the end of the transition period, building on the existing practice to maintain the Single Epidemiological Unit (SEU) on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland would align with EU SPS rules, including those for agri-food goods. Agri-food goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would do so via a Border Inspection Post or Designated Point of Entry as required by EU law, building on the provisions that already exist to support the SEU. They would be subject to identity and documentary checks and physical examination by UK authorities as required by the relevant EU.

In addition, Northern Ireland would also align with all relevant EU rules relating to the placing on the market of manufactured goods. This would ensure that checks could be implemented at the boundary of the zone, in line with relevant EU law, minimising the potential for non-compliance. This would be supplemented by on-the-market surveillance, as now.

Traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would need to notify the authorities before the goods entered Northern Ireland, so that checks could take place and to prevent the entry of products prohibited or restricted by EU rules.

While much of this information is captured through the application of the Union Customs Code at EU borders at the moment, “this would not be an appropriate approach under the amended Protocol, as Northern Ireland will be in the UK customs territory. A new notification requirement will therefore be needed to provide basic information to support the regulatory controls, covering the nature of the goods in the consignment, and where they were produced, the exporter, the consignees and where the goods will depart and arrive.

The precise arrangements for ensuring the effective operation of this approach would be decided through the Joint Committee before the end of the transition period.

As a result checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would not apply when goods enter Ireland from Northern Ireland. The UK would not apply corresponding checks or controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Ireland. Third country goods arriving in Northern Ireland would, as now and in the rest of the UK, be subject to full customs processes, as well as the required regulatory checks.

With the UK and EU operating distinct customs territories and Northern Ireland part of the UK customs territory, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be a customs border, said the government. However: “That does not mean that customs checks and controls need to take place at, or even near, that border. Instead, we are making a proposal which ensures that no customs controls necessary to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes will take place at or near the border. This system will be underpinned by continuing close cooperation between UK and Irish authorities.”

It added: “The intention is to make a series of simplifications and improvements to that legislation which will ensure that the commitment in the new protocol to ensure no checks or infrastructure at the border will be fulfilled by the end of the transition period.”

All goods movements between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be notified by declaration and regulatory checks will not apply. Goods would move under either a transit mechanism or a prior declaration mechanism, under customs supervision by one or other customs authority from the point at which they are declared for export until they are cleared by customs in the territory of import for free circulation or placed under an alternative customs procedure.

The relevant customs authority will be notified that the consignment has entered their customs territory. Physical checks would be required only on a very small proportion of movements based on risk-assessment and could take place at traders’ premises or other designated locations.

There would be special provision for simplified requirements for small traders, some of whom should be exempted from processes and from paying duty altogether. But the measures “would need to be carefully designed so they target the traders most in need of support while continuing to ensure compliance as far as possible”.

Under the plan, movements between Ireland and Northern Ireland should not require entry or exit summary declarations.

There would be a trusted trader scheme giving authorised firms benefits to make the customs process easier to comply with. There should also be an “ambitious” temporary admissions arrangement.

Import VAT and excise duty arising on goods moving between Ireland and Northern Ireland should not be paid or accounted for at the border nor should there be checks or controls at the border. The UK and the EU should cooperate to minimise evasion.

The UK Government should also set up grant schemes to help intermediaries such as customs brokers, hauliers, freight forwarders and fast parcel operators.

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