Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland firms welcome Brexit policy paper's plans for no return to border posts

By John Mulgrew

Business groups have welcomed "constructive" Downing Street proposals which would see no border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but say it throws up more questions.

The Whitehall paper wants to avoid checkpoints or any other physical border.

However, it also proposes employing "technology-based solutions to make it easier to comply with customs procedures".

"This would enable the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to continue to be seamless in relation to customs," it says.

But the paper does not make clear what will be put in place to regulate the flow of goods across the frontier.

It says the "highly-streamlined customs arrangements could include: a continued waiver on submitting entry/exit declarations; continued membership of the Common Transit Convention to help Northern Ireland and Irish companies transit goods".

Seamus Leheny, policy and membership manager of the Freight Transport Association, said the publication "confirms that the Government realises that technology such as cameras may well be suitable for ports such as Dover but are not the solution for the Irish border".

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: "It is a significant step forward but unsurprisingly throws up even more questions about how much flexibility and imagination will be needed to overcome some very fundamental challenges.

"The implication seems that in order to remove the bureaucracy of customs inspections businesses will instead be burdened with greater bureaucracy on in-work immigration checks.

"This would not be welcomed by SMEs who will see it as Government giving with one hand and taking away with the other."

The paper was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium's Aodhan Connolly, who said: "We need solutions on the movement of goods, health and on tariffs in a similarly expedited manner well in advance of March 2019 to provide certainty for our members and for Northern Ireland consumers".

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "We welcome the commitments from all sides to see no return of a hard border to the island of Ireland and want to ensure that this promise is delivered on by the UK Government."

Wilfred Mitchell, FSB policy chair for Northern Ireland, said: "There is still a long way to go before agreement is reached with the EU.

"Businesses want some certainty as soon as possible, so we are pleased to see firm proposals as the negotiations move to the next stage, and where the Northern Ireland land border is firmly on the agenda".

Director general of the British Irish Chamber, John McGrane, said while there were "a lot of constructive proposals" there remained "definite challenges" about the feasibility of cross-border trade arrangements.

"There are a lot of constructive proposals in this paper to be positive about and we especially welcome the UK's commitment to borderless trade on the island of Ireland and the continuation of the Common Travel Area, which will have huge benefits for the thousands of workers who travel from one jurisdiction to the other on a daily basis," he added.

On the issue of a sea border, the paper dismissed it "as not constitutionally or economically viable". The paper also calls for the retention of the single electricity market which operates across Ireland.

Trevor Lockhart, deputy chair of CBI, said: "This paper suggests that the UK Government is going in the right direction, but there's a way to go before businesses are reassured that trade will continue smoothly after Brexit."

Belfast Telegraph