Belfast Telegraph

How will the Irish border work after Brexit?


The post-Brexit border issue has raised many as yet unanswered questions
The post-Brexit border issue has raised many as yet unanswered questions

By Niall Harkin, chairman of Chartered Accountants Ulster Society

Brexit is a divisive issue, but one thing most agree with is that the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland would be harmful to business and could create havoc for many people living in border regions.

The UK, the EU and the Republic of Ireland all want to avoid a return of a hard border, but so far not much has been put forward in terms of a workable solution.

So what will our border look like after Brexit? Maybe some of the existing borders between EU and non-EU countries can give us a clue.

Norway/Sweden border

Sweden is in the EU, Norway isn't. But Norway is a member of the European Economic Area, which means that it's part of the EU's single market. This means that Norway enjoys free movement of goods, capital, people and services, but there are customs checks at the border.

The border between Norway and Sweden is more than 1,600km long and there are 10 official crossing points for customs purposes. Lorries go through customs once, generally. At the main border, in Svinesund, an average of 1,300 HGVs pass through every day. Technology is used at the border, which means that lorries only generally stop once and customs officials in both countries work together.

Reports show that the average wait time from when a lorry arrives at the border to when it clears customs is 20 minutes.

Switzerland/France border

France is in the EU, Switzerland isn't. Switzerland is part of the single market, but is not in a customs union with the EU. This means that Switzerland's regulations in terms of product quality and standards are fully aligned with EU rules, thereby reducing quality control checks at the border.

The border between Switzerland and France is more than 500km long, and there are customs controls in the form of physical infrastructure at several points along the border. Some are only open at certain times (ie Monday to Friday) to receive declarations and others are no longer manned.

The average wait for a lorry carrying goods is reported to range from 20 minutes to two hours.

Turkey/Bulgaria border

Bulgaria is in the EU, Turkey isn't. Turkey is in a customs union with the EU, which means that certain goods can cross from Turkey to the EU and vice versa without customs duties arising. Turkey is not in the single market, so there is no free movement of services, people or capital. There are also restrictions on several types of goods, including agricultural products.

Because Turkey is not in the single market, several regulations and EU standards need to be adhered to and checked before goods are allowed into the EU.

Therefore, there is a need for traders to have certain documentation ready at the border, including export licences, invoices and transport permits.

The border is around 270km and there are three designated crossing points for customs purposes. Additional documentation is required and long delays at the border are normal. There are reports of waits ranging from three hours to in excess of 24 hours in order to clear customs.

Is technology the answer?

If the UK leaves the single market and customs union, it is difficult to envisage how a hard border can be avoided on the island of Ireland.

Regardless of whether tariffs apply, customs checks are still going to need to happen in most scenarios.

Technology can improve wait times at the border, but it is important to note that it cannot get rid of borders altogether. Trusted trader schemes, where fast-track customs clearance options are available to certain traders, can also help, but again they cannot get rid of borders.

Looking at the options, it's hard for business to take comfort that operations won't be more challenging after Brexit. Getting some clear advice from the Government, and a voice for business from our local politicians, would be a good place to start.

Belfast Telegraph