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SDLP's Eastwood blasts Gove's Brexit border plan as 'damaging to Northern Ireland economy'

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Niall Carson/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Niall Carson/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Niall Carson/PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has hit out at Michael Gove after his announcement customs checks on goods travelling between Great Britain (GB) and the EU would be "inevitable" from next year.

Speaking at a government event on Monday, the Cabinet minister said traders from the EU and GB would have to submit customs declarations and be liable for checks at GBs borders from the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020.

Colum Eastwood said any trade barriers with the EU would see Northern Ireland businesses face new financial, logistics and supply burdens. He called on the government to introduce measures to protect businesses from any disruption to trade.

Mr Gove said that it could take up to five years to get a "smart border" involving online processes up and running and warned businesses to be ready for the changes by next January.

The plans are aimed at GB/EU traders and do not apply to the flow of trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland or between Northern Ireland and GB.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU says that checks and controls will be required on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland that go on to the Republic, effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea.

Mr Johnson said the only circumstances in which he could see the needs for checks would be on goods travelling from GB to NI and on into the Republic of Ireland if a zero tariff, zero quota trade agreement had not been reached with the EU.

Foyle MP Eastwood said Mr Gove's plan would create "unnecessary and politically motivated barriers to trade that will damage Northern Ireland's economy".

He said the government's "rush to abandon the EU rules" would have severe implications on trade to Northern Ireland from GB.

Mr Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and de facto deputy prime minister, said that as GB would be outside the single market and customs union the country must prepare "for the customs procedures and regulatory checks that will inevitably follow".

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Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (Aaron Chown/PA)

"As a result of that we will be in a stronger position, not just to make sure that our economy succeeds outside the European Union but that we are in a position to take advantage of new trading relationships with the rest of the world," he told the Government's Border Delivery Group.

In relation to businesses Mr Gove said they "have to accept we will need some friction".

"We will minimise it, but it is in an inevitability of our departure," he told the event.

"I don’t underestimate the fact that this is a significant change, but we have time now to make that change."

Mr Eastwood said the government had moved away from promises of "frictionless trade" and "borders of the future".

He accused Mr Gove and the government of not caring about the effect the plan would have on businesses and the economy.

"Their rush to reject alignment with EU rules isn’t based on creating new opportunities or doing what’s best for business here, it is an entirely political decision rooted in the Europhobia that has gripped the British Government," the Foyle MP said.

“The effect of insisting on trade barriers with the EU is that businesses here that rely on GB market supply for component parts or for access to freight, for example, will face new financial, logistics and supply burdens. We know that the impact of new burdens on SMEs will be significant.

“The British Government understands the impact this will have on our economy. They have been engaged with the North’s trade and industry experts. Their disregard for the experience and advice they’ve received is astonishing."

The SDLP leader called on the government to introduce measures to protect businesses from the fallout of the plan.

“Our economy cannot be collateral damage. The British Government needs to be prepared to offer specific derogations from these new rules for local business. And if they close their minds to specific solutions, they need to mitigate impact and compensate those who lose out.

"This phase of the Brexit negotiations is critical to defending jobs and the economic interests of this island. The British Government will not get an easy ride."

Belfast Telegraph