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No progress in finding solution to Brexit border problem

16 March 2018

In its report, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee expresses concern over progress in finding a solution to the UK-Ireland land border post Brexit and points out the absence of a technical solution to render the border invisible.

Government should clarify the rules

The report calls on the Government to do more to clarify the rules, processes and technical measures that will allow the current frictionless border arrangements to continue.

Border solution

The report addresses the fundamental question of how the UK's decision to leave the Single Market and Customs Union can be reconciled with avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. The UK Government has repeatedly underlined that the free movement of people across the border will not be affected, and that no physical infrastructure will be put in place. However, the Committee was unable to identify any border solution currently in operation across the globe that would enable physical infrastructure to be avoided when rules and tariffs diverge.

Main recommendations

  • The Committee concluded that the Government's proposals are imaginative but that it will not have the time to implement a new non-visible customs regime before withdrawal day.
  • The Committee rejected any proposals for customs checks which would result in a customs border down the Irish Sea. This would create a costly barrier to trade with Northern Ireland's largest market and would be incompatible with the spirit and intent of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
  • The Committee found that additional infrastructure at the border would not only be politically objectional but ineffective and unworkable.
  • Leaving the EU without a substantial agreement would have very negative consequences for avoiding a hard border. The Committee welcomed commitments that this would not happen.

Common Travel Area

  • The Government should set out in detail how it proposes to manage immigration through internal controls, including whether there will be increased documentary checks to determine entitlement for residency and to access public services.
  • Clarify how the Common Travel area protects the special status of British and Irish citizens in each other's countries. If existing law is not sufficient, the Government should publish a draft bill that safeguards CTA associated rights.

North/South cooperation

  • The Government should conduct an impact assessment for the border each time regulatory or tariff divergence from the EU is proposed.

Peace funding

  • Set out in more detail its proposals for a bilateral successor to the Peace programme and whether it will seek to continue funding for cross-border projects under the Interreg programme post-2020

Brexit's success or otherwise hinges on the UK-Ireland border

Publishing the report, Committee Chair Dr Andrew Murrison MP commented:

"Brexit's success or otherwise hinges on the UK-Ireland border. Everyone agrees that the border after Brexit must look and feel as it does today.

However, we have heard no evidence to suggest that there is currently a technical solution that would avoid infrastructure at the border. Furthermore, we have no detail on how checks on goods and people will be undertaken away from the border.

It is now clear that a significant transition period is essential for the options in December's Joint Report to be worked though. It is equally clear that regulatory and tariff alignment will be required during transition to avoid any hardening of the border before a definitive low-friction solution can be determined."

Further information

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