Trade

UK firms search for new Irish trade routes to avoid Brexit customs woes

LONDON — Major U.K. companies, including big supermarkets, are eyeing up alternative trade routes across the Northern Irish border in the hope of getting around costly post-Brexit customs checks.

Officials who work closely with industry told POLITICO that firms had last year put plans in place to take advantage of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and are looking at doing the same ahead of the transition period ending in December.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement says there will be checks on goods moving across the frontier between Ireland in the EU and Northern Ireland in the U.K. but that they will be done remotely to ensure a hard border is not created. It also says there will be checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea in both directions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

But the nature of those checks and how the systems will work remains unclear. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists Britain will not actually impose vetting in either direction across the Irish Sea. The EUs Michel Barnier said Thursday that British negotiator David Frost had reassured him the U.K. will “respect its legal obligations” when it comes to the agreements Northern Ireland Protocol.

All borders between the EU and the U.K., aside from the one on the island of Ireland, will face customs checks, the government has confirmed, raising the specter of big administrative costs for business and major delays at border pinch points.

Some household name firms are looking at using the porous Irish border to avoid customs procedures altogether, even those that the government hopes to have in place by January 1.

One industry representative said firms are planning to reroute EU goods, which are usually imported through U.K. ports like Dover and Harwich, into Ireland and then across the border into Northern Ireland, and even across to Great Britain, in the hope that checks will be minimal.

They added that Northern Ireland could become a “manufacturing paradise” for companies that export to the EU and the rest of the U.K., and predicted firms would base themselves there to take advantage of the situation.

Another industry representative said some household name firms are looking at using the porous Irish border to avoid customs procedures altogether, even those that the government hopes to have in place by January 1. There are concerns that a lax approach to the frontier could increase the chances of smuggling and fraud, with future cooperation on security between the two sides currently unclear.

The first representative said they had not heard of any such intentions, but that it would not be a surprise. “There will be lots of entrepreneurial businesses that have extremely talented people who will be able to find the most efficient routes and the most cost-effective ways of doing things,” they said. “So it doesnt surprise me that people are looking for new ways of approaching the Northern Ireland border issue.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Businesses are required to comply with the law — this means ensuring they pay the correct duty owed to the U.K.” They added: “HMRC [Her Majestys Revenue and Customs] will continue to take a risk-based, intelligence-led response to compliance issues in Northern Ireland in cooperation with our partners and other customs authorities.”

Traders who move goods between mainland Europe and the island of Ireland through Great Britain are looking to change their approach to keep their supply lines entirely in the EU and avoid costly customs procedures.

Duncan Buchanan, policy director for the Road Haulage Association, said firms would not put their businesses at risk by intentionally breaking the rules. “Smuggling is illegal and any companies that get involved with a deliberate attempt to smuggle willRead More – Source