Goods moving between Britain and North will require checking - Coveney
British Prime Minister claimed over the weekend such checks would not be necessary
Although the Tánaiste Simon Coveney refused to be drawn into criticising Boris Johnson in the middle of the election campaign, he made it clear the Irish and British governments do not share their interpretations of crucial elements of the Withdrawal Agreement. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
The Irish Government is “clear” that if the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is ratified goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in both directions, will require to be checked, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, has said.
The British Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed, most recently over the weekend, that such checks would not be necessary as the North would remain part of the UK customs territory.
Mr Coveney, speaking to journalists on the fringes of a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, also cast doubt on the likelihood that a future relationship deal could be hammered out between the end of January 2020 and the end of December while the UK is in transition from membership of the EU.
“The prime minister said that he does not want to seek an extension,” the Tánaiste said, “and that he wants to get everything done in 2020. That’s possible but there’s an awful lot to do in a relatively short space of time if that is to be achieved and that’s why I think Phil Hogan and others have been very cautious about whether or not it’s possible to do all of the things that the EU and the UK need to do together, not just on a free trade agreement but also on security, on fishing, on aviation, on data … whether it’s possible to do all of that in the space of ten or 11 months, I think it’s a very tall order.”
Although Mr Coveney refused to be drawn into criticising Mr Johnson in the middle of the election campaign, he made it clear that the Irish and British governments do not share their interpretations of crucial elements of the Withdrawal Agreement which would see Northern Ireland remain part of both the EU and UK customs zones. The EU Commission shares the Dublin view.
The requirements of the EU customs union are clear, a spokesman for the commission confirmed again on Monday. The rules of membership require checks and customs declarations on goods travelling in or out of the union. Tariffs might also apply on goods coming into Northern Ireland if they were to be exported into the rest of the EU.
“Goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland will need to have some checks to ensure that the EU knows what is potentially coming into their market through Northern Ireland,” Mr Coveney said.
“Goods going the other way from NI into Great Britain will have far less requirement for checks at all. In fact it will probably be limited to an export declaration because of course that is a matter internally for the United Kingdom and the British Government has indicated that they want frictionless or unfettered access for goods originating in Northern Ireland going into the rest of the UK single market,” he added.
He admitted that what was involved would be a “complicated legal structure” whose purpose was to ensure that there was no need for infrastructure on the border on the island of Ireland. “And we spent many hours negotiating and explaining that. I’m not going to get into what’s been said and who is saying it in the context of a British general election. That’s a matter for political leaders to make their own case.
“The Irish Government has always said it will work with the UK to try to minimise the impact on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain,” Mr Coveney said. “That effectively means unfettered access from goods from NI going into Great Britain as well as unfettered access from goods from Northern Ireland entering the European single market. So NI is effectively getting the best of both worlds.”