Tangled in Red Tape: UK Government Answers Brexit Questions

19 June 2020

Despite UK’s EU membership ending five months ago - uncertainty continues to shroud Brexit, with many firms unsure of the impact it will have on the transportation sector. 

Contradicting the Prime Minister’s December 2019 assertion of there being no trade checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland Michael Gove, Cabinet Office Minister, who has been overseeing the Government’s Brexit response, presented a 20-page “UK approach to the Northern Ireland protocol”. This paper detailed a “limited administrative process” between the two countries.

More red tape?

The politician declared: “Although there will be some new administrative requirements, these processes will be streamlined and simplified to the maximum extent.”

Gove added: “This paper sets out how we believe the protocol can be implemented in a flexible, and proportionate way – protecting the interests of both the whole UK and the EU.

Our proposals will deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole of the UK market; ensure there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory; discharge our obligations without the need for any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland and, finally, guarantee that Northern Ireland businesses benefit from the lower tariffs we deliver through our new free trade agreements with third countries.”

How will the government ensure “unfettered access”?

This proposed “unfettered access” for Northern Ireland businesses selling into the British market, was intertwined with the political deal that re-established Belfast’s Stormont assembly in January. This means that there will be no import customs declarations, tariffs or entry summaries as goods enter the rest of the UK from Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Gove admits that there will have to be “minimal” new checks and paperwork for trade crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, in the eventuality that the goods are to enter the EU single market across an open border. The minister stated there will be “no new physical customs infrastructure” but some existing entry points for agri-food goods will “expand” to provide for “proportionate” additional controls. This implies that UK customs officers may find themselves sharing premises with vets and other officials tasked with carrying out enhanced checks on animals and food products. 

There are also plans for digital customs declarations, with tariff charges added only if items are heading into the EU single market via the Republic of Ireland (or if there is a “genuine and substantial risk of them ending up there”). Employing advanced technology to access sophisticated data on trade flows for goods entering Northern Ireland – the UK government will be able to work closely with the Irish authorities to tackle smuggling. This also minimises the processes on goods moving across the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

What about the EU?

The UK Government are against the proposal of a permanent EU office in Northern Ireland – articulating that; “such a presence would risk being perceived as a return to joint controls and would be divisive in political and community terms. It is also unnecessary for the protocol to work properly.”

While quick to praise the paperwork as “an important step forward”, former European adviser to Number 10, Raoul Ruparel believes that “the EU will need some convincing” in accepting this document. Specifically, the proposal of market customs checks without a new infrastructure deviates too far from the EU’s approach to border politics.


Despite the scepticism – if the government can follow through with this proposition, the arrangement is generally good news for the logistics sector. Regardless; if 2020 has taught us anything – it is to expect the unexpected. With the period of transitional arrangements set to end on the 31st of December – it is important to strengthen the infrastructure of your business to prepare for potential economic shifts.

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