Belfast Telegraph

Gordon Milligan: Boris Johnson ditches the backstop, but what is the replacement?

Clarity is needed on future trading
Clarity is needed on future trading

By Gordon Milligan, IoD NI chairman

For many, the Northern Ireland backstop, designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland immediately following Brexit, had been among the most controversial elements of Theresa May's withdrawal deal.

It is now gone - but huge questions remain over what has replaced it.

The new protocol will be the starting point for Northern Ireland from the moment the transition period closes at the end of 2020.

The answers to many of the questions opened by the new deal may be found in a future trading agreement and wider future relationship arrangement, but without them, we remain largely in the dark.

Many of the differences between this new deal and the previous one made by Theresa May revolve around customs arrangements and - to a lesser extent - VAT.

EU law will apply to VAT in Northern Ireland but the UK government will collect VAT and excise duties. Some goods will be treated differently so that Northern Ireland VAT can be zero-rated or reduced in these areas, but they are currently unspecified.

Even less detail is known around the new customs arrangements.

Sign In

Rather than a contingency plan keeping the whole UK in the customs union, the plan is now for a complex "dual tariff" regime for Northern Ireland, straddling the EU and UK customs territories to eliminate the need for land border checks.

But whether Northern Ireland benefits (even indirectly) from EU trade deals as well as future UK trade agreements remains unclear.

There is a tremendous desire among the local business community to understand the detail in all of this, and huge concerns about what any future divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will mean.

This requires clarity - and urgently. The government must provide more detail on how it intends to safeguard and protect the domestic markets across the UK from becoming too fragmented over time.

What is clear is that the current deal is, on the face of it, much better than a disorderly 'no-deal' but given the lack of comprehensive detail, further scrutiny over what it means for Northern Ireland is essential.

This week, we will again be helping local organisations navigate their way through Brexit as we enter the final phase before the UK's departure.

Our Brexit Ready NI initiative rolls into Cookstown this morning while we have further advice clinics planned in Belfast this week and more than 140 leaders will attend our free Meet the Experts lunch on Friday.

Our aim is to assist businesses across Northern Ireland realise the smoothest possible transition, using all the information at our disposal as we continue to call for further clarity from the government in the days ahead.

  • For more details, contact

Belfast Telegraph