Brexit: System agreed for Irish goods to skip checks on UK trade
Arrangement affects two-thirds of exporters that use Britain as land bridge
Britain may require exporters to file exit declarations as goods leave Dublin and Belfast, and there have been warnings of long queues for lorries at Dover. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty
An Irish proposal to lessen paperwork for traders who export goods from the island over the “land bridge” of Britain and make passage through continental ports smoother when checks come into place on British goods from January has won preliminary agreement in Brussels.
The arrangements affect the two-thirds of Irish exporters that use the so-called land bridge, transporting their goods through Britain before they are moved on to other markets, and will apply to goods from both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The European Union has long agreed that Irish goods arriving into the Continent must be exempt from any checks that British goods are subject to, because as part of the single market Ireland should be treated equally to any other EU member when it comes to trade.
But implementing this is tricky, and requires a system to distinguish Irish goods from British goods when they are unloaded from ferries at continental ports such as Rotterdam, Zeebrugge or Cherbourg.
In recent months the Government expressed concerns about the smooth operation of computer systems that are needed to detect the origin of goods and ensure that Irish goods go through the no-check “green lanes”, rather than the red lanes that involve inspections of British goods.
A meeting between the European Commission, Ireland, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands last week reached an agreement to avoid traders having to enter information twice, according to those close to the talks.
Under the arrangement, data would be taken automatically from declarations that traders already have to make to Irish authorities when moving food or animal products that have implications for human health.
“It’s about keeping goods flowing, and from an Irish point of view it’s about protecting our ease of trade within the single market,” a source close to the talks said.
The change requires an amendment to EU regulation 2019/2124, and is currently moving through the commission and will need to be approved by national leaders and the European Parliament.
“On the specific case about IT systems and what happens when products from Ireland enter into the single market again after coming across the land bridge of Great Britain, this is an issue that has been discussed between Ireland and the commission and a number of relevant member states,” a European Commission spokesman said.
“This technical work is ongoing at the moment between all of the relevant member states.”
However, sources close to the talks stressed that this technical work was entirely separate to negotiations with Britain regarding its future relationship with the EU, and does not solve the land-bridge issue because it relates only to what happens to Irish goods once they arrive in continental ports.
Huge questions still hang over what paperwork or delays companies may face as their goods leave ports on the island of Ireland, transit through Britain, and load on to ferries in England.
Britain may require exporters to file exit declarations as goods leave Dublin and Belfast, and there have been warnings of long queues for lorries at Dover, particularly in the event that no deal is reached between British and EU negotiators on their trade relationship from January 1st, 2021.
The EU is seeking special arrangements for Irish trade in the talks with Britain that recognise Ireland’s “unique geographic situation”, a reference to the Republic’s reliance on imports and exports that transit through the land bridge.
But the talks are deadlocked over a number of issues and ended prematurely this week, indicating little progress is in sight.
In the background, the Government and the other remaining 26 EU member states are preparing contingency plans for a no-deal situation. This would mean World Trade Organisation trade terms would automatically come into force, bringing in tariffs on goods and significant paperwork, as well as abruptly terminating decades of co-operation in numerous areas.
As an alternative to the land bridge, additional direct ferry crossings have been set up between Dublin Port, Rotterdam and , and additional capacity has been added on the Dublin-Cherbourg route.