Hard Brexit will lead to surge in cross-Border smuggling, says report

Severe ‘regulatory divergence’ on island will guarantee big pay-offs for organised crime

Smuggling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will again become a serious problem if Border controls are imposed after the United Kingdom quits the European Union, leading experts have warned.

The UK's departure from European Medicines Agency rules, for example, would guarantee an increase in smuggling of prescription drugs, said Prof Peter Neumann of King's College London.

"The irony of it is that because of an act of essentially British nationalism you are empowering dissident Irish republican groups which are big players in cross-Border smuggling," he told The Irish Times.

The harder the Border becomes post-Brexit, the greater the incentives for organised criminals and smugglers, Prof Neumann and his colleague Rajan Basra told the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin.


Severe "regulatory divergence" between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland post-Brexit would increase pay-offs for organised crime and smugglers on the island.

“It is the golden law of smuggling,” said Prof Neumann. “If you have two jurisdictions and you have a desirable product that is hard to get hold of on one side of the Border and easier to get hold of on the other side of the Border, somebody will turn up and turn that into a profit.”

Smuggling by paramilitary groups has existed for as long as the Border, said Neumann, who has co-authored Organised Crime and Terrorism in the UK and Ireland: Threats and Convergence with Basra.

Terror financing

In the report, Neumann and Basra, a researcher in terror financing and links between terror and crime among European jihadists, have examined the risks of increased criminality after the UK leaves the EU.

The EU and the UK agreed before Christmas that a hard border would be avoided but the two sides have yet to negotiate post-Brexit trade arrangements that would guarantee this while meeting the British government’s intention to exit the EU’s single market and customs union.

Prof Neumann said that the only way to avoid additional incentives for organised crime, post-Brexit, was to ensure that rules on both sides of the Border do not diverge.

The idea of creating a technological soft border was “complete hocus-pocus,” he said, as smuggling had taken place by people who know the area well when the Border was almost fully sealed off.

“If you create bigger incentives, it will intensify smuggling, whatever technological means are in place,” he said.

Northern Ireland had the most dense and institutionalised connections between crime and terror in Europe, said the London-based expert on terrorism and violent radicalisation.

Loyalist groups are central players in Northern Ireland’s drug trade, he said, and had become “almost institutionalised” as they portray themselves as defenders of their communities and reinvented themselves as community or ex-prisoner groups that receive Northern Ireland government subsidies.

“I do think that a blind eye has been turned for some time for the sake of not wanting to rock the boat but I think in the long term the existence and the entrenchment of these actors in Northern Ireland is deeply problematic also to the peace process,” said Prof Neumann.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times