David Davis is unwilling to tackle the “very real” impact Brexit will have on the Irish border, a leading business group has warned in a scathing attack on the Government.
The boss of Chambers Ireland – the country’s largest business group –described the Government’s latest proposals to have no physical border between the UK and the Republic as lacking in detail and unhelpful.
The Brexit Department has today revealed further plans for how trade will operate across the border once Britain leaves the EU Single Market and customs union – something which could see the two levelling potentially different tariffs on goods.
The overnight briefing ahead of the full report – set to be published on Wednesday afternoon – suggests businesses could simply be assumed to be following the laws through a “trusted trader” scheme, while others would have no new customs obligations at all.
The boss of Chambers Ireland – the country’s largest business group – told HuffPost UK the British Government’s plans “lacks the necessary detail” needed for a viable solution.
Ian Talbot, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “The UK’s unwillingness to engage in the very real practical, political and geographical complexities of what will be a new land border between the EU and the UK is unhelpful and does not bode well for the next round of Brexit negotiations.
“Further, technology is not a panacea to the issue of cross-border trade. While technological solutions may be helpful, they are one part of what will be a series of complex arrangements. Suggesting anything otherwise is unrealistic.
“We do not fully understand how the UK’s suggestion that they plan to have an open border with the EU ties into the immigration concerns they have expressed. This approach could also impact on Ireland’s immigration policy and obligations.
“Our Chamber members along the border have also highlighted several concerns businesses have about traceability and regulation, delays in travelling cross border for day to day business, education and social needs.”
The Brexit Department’s Northern Ireland paper comes a day after a similar document was published on future customs arrangements with the EU after March 2019.
That paper contained two proposed outcomes for a customs deal after Brexit: a highly-streamlined customs arrangements that would see a trade border with the EU; and a new customs partnership with Brussels that would not.
The overnight briefing states: “Under a new customs partnership, where we align our customs approaches, there would be no customs border at all between the UK and Ireland.
“This would enable the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to continue to be seamless in relation to customs.
“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.
“These arrangements would also need facilitations reflecting the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, such as new trusted trader arrangements to deliver highly streamlined processes for larger traders and cross-border trade exemption meaning no new customs processes at all for smaller traders. Over 80% of cross-border trade is by SMEs.”
A Government source said the EU and the UK need to “show flexibility and imagination” when it comes to solving the Irish border issue.
The source added: “As [EU Chief Negotiator] Michel Barnier himself has said, the solution cannot be based on a precedent so we’re looking forward to seeing the EU’s position paper on Ireland.
“But it’s right that as we shape the unprecedented model, we have some very clear principles.
“Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure — that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK.”
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Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Conor McGinn, a supporter of the anti-Brexit group Open Britain, shared the concerns of Chambers Ireland as he slammed the slammed the Government for its vagueness.
He said: “These proposals on a light touch border are lighter still on detail. They don’t outline how a frictionless or seamless border can be achieved when the UK leaves the EU and won’t reassure anybody about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.
“A border must not be reimposed in Ireland, either for people or for goods. The Government has failed to say how it can reconcile its desire to maintain the Common Travel Area with its policy of limiting and monitoring immigration.
“On customs, the Government are admitting that a hard Brexit that takes us out of the Customs Union will lead to more form-filling and red tape for firms on both sides of the border.”
The proposals also received a lukewarm reception from UK business group the CBI, and Deputy Director-General Josh Hardie said: “Business has been clear that maintaining an open, frictionless border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and between Great Britain and the island of Ireland is essential to supporting jobs and the economy.
“Companies will be examining these latest proposals closely to ensure they deliver on commitments to ensuring there are no new barriers and that the Common Travel Area is protected. The CBI will consult widely with businesses on the potential implications for cross-border trade.”
The Government also vowed to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) an associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and uphold the Belfast Agreement in all its parts.
That means no change to the ability to move freely around the CTA that exists now.