In August 2017, the UK published a position paper on various issues in relation to the Brexit negotiations and in particular the issue of border arrangements within the island of Ireland. It emphasised the UK’s ambition to develop a new deep and special partnership with the EU and the implications which this has for Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The UK proposed that the UK and EU should focus in the initial phases of the dialog on reaching a common understanding on the principles of North South and East West cooperation.
The UK paper referring to the consent principle in the Belfast agreement rejected imposing customs barriers within the UK, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
It set out the UK’s proposals in relation to upholding the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, maintaining the common travel area and associated rights, avoiding a hard border for the movement of goods and aiming to preserve North South and East West cooperation.
The position paper has been referred to repeatedly by the United Kingdom since that time as its setting out its broad proposals in respect of customs and the avoidance of a so-called hard border in Ireland.
The paper acknowledges that political stability in Northern Ireland is dependent on the continued operation of the agreements, institutions and constitutional framework, effective management of the security environment and economic prosperity. It acknowledges the EU support in the peace process and in furthering political progress and reconciliation.
CTA and Citizenship
The paper proposes that both UK and the EU should formally recognise the citizenships rights in the Belfast agreement and agree to the continuation of funding to Northern Ireland and border countries of Ireland. It acknowledges the people in Northern Ireland may choose to treat themselves as British, Irish or both.
The paper refers to the 2011 joint ministerial statement on setting up a joint program for work in support of securing the external CTA border. It refers to various bilateral treatments and arrangements and confirms, in particular,
- the reciprocal rights of UK and Irish nationals to enter and reside, to work in each others’ state without requiring permission. It also embraces
- the right to study
- access the social welfare entitlement and benefits,
- access to health services,
- the right to vote in local and parliamentary elections.
Several of these rights have been overlaid and reinforced by common EU rights in relation to free movement and associated benefits.
There is no formal harmonised immigration arrangement between the UK and Ireland. However, there is extensive cooperation. A small number of states are subjected to visa requirements in UK or Ireland only (six and seven respectively).
The position paper proposes that the UK and the EU seek to agree on a text for the Withdrawal Agreement that recognises the on-going status of the common travel area and associated reciprocal arrangements following Brexit. The arrangements will mirror the existing opt-out of Ireland and UK from the Schengen border-free area.
It states that the development of a future UK immigration system will not impact on the ability to enter the UK within the common travel area free from border controls.
It will support the preservation of rights of British and Irish citizens as enjoyed today.
UK confirms its willingness to provide clear assurance that Ireland’s immigration and border arrangements would be unaffected by the preservation of the CTA and expressed confidence that an agreement could be readily maintained after Brexit.
The UK confirms that it would seek to ensure that individuals travelling to the UK from the EU and vice versa can travel with goods for personal use as fully and smoothly as prior to Brexit.
It indicates that the nature of the border means that EU and UK must aim for reciprocal solutions.
On 15th August 2017, the UK government set out two broad approaches for its future customs relationship with the EU. In its paper-Future Customs Arrangement, it outlines proposals for a highly streamlined customs arrangement between the UK and EU simplifying requirements so as to apply a few additional requirements on UK / EU trade as possible. This would aim to continue some of the existing agreements between UK and EU and put in place new negotiation facilitations to reduce and remove barriers to trade and implement technology-based solutions to make it easier to comply with customs procedures.
It would involve a new customs partnership with the EU aligning approaches to customs borders in a way that removes the need for UK / EU customs border. One possible approach would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU.
It also proposed a continued waiver from the requirements to submit an entry and exit summary declarations of goods being moved between the UK and the EU removing a time-sensitive administrative requirement.
The paper indicated that pre-notification of travel by business on either side of the land border, true entry and exit summary declarations would not be consistent with the shared objectives.
Membership of the Common Transit Convention simplifying border crossing for goods and transit meaning that goods would not need to complete import and export declarations each time they cross a new border.
Specific Solutions on the Irish Border
The paper on Northern Ireland recognised that the UK would need to go further on a very specific facilitations that recognise the unique circumstances of the Northern Ireland border. One approach intended to be explored is a cross-border trade exemption that recognised the fact that many of the movements in goods are by small traders and cannot be categorized and treated as economically significant in international trade.
Such an exemption would ensure that smaller traders could continue to operate as they do now with no new requirements in relation to customs. It’s indicated that over 80 percent of North-South trade was carried on by micro, small and medium-sized businesses, being in the nature of local trade in local markets.
For businesses not eligible for the exemption, the UK would explore with the EU, how administrative processes could be significantly streamlined. In the customs paper, the UK sets out proposals for the mutual recognition of authorised economic operators led in faster clearance of AEO goods at the border.
In the context of Northern Ireland, the UK wished to explore further streamline processes including for trusted traders either side of the border, who did not qualify for the exemption. This would allow for a simplified customs procedure such as reduced declaration requirements and periodic payments of duty.
The option of a new customs partnership with the EU would remove the need to introduce custom processes between the UK and EU This of itself would enable the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to remain seamless.
There would need to be a robust enforcement mechanism to ensure that goods which had not complied with the EU’s trade policy stayed within the UK. This could involve the tracking mechanism whereby imports were tracked until they reached the end user or a repayment mechanism whereby imports to the UK paid whichever was the higher of the UK or EU’s tariffs and claimed a refund for the difference when the goods were sold to an end user in the country charging lower tariffs.
UK traders in Northern Ireland would need to be able to track goods and pass the ability to claim a repayment along their supply chain, in order to benefit from tariff differences between the UK and EU for rest of the world goods. This partnership would need to cover all goods and not just certain sectors in order to deliver a seamless border in Northern Ireland.
The White Paper set out potential approaches to sanitary and phytosanitary measures. EU law stipulates a range of controls for third country agri-food products where the EU does not have a sufficiently deep trade relationship with developing country.
One option proposed could be regulatory equivalent on agrifood measures whereby the UK and EU agree to achieve the same outcome and high standards with scope for flexibility in relation to the method for achieving this. An agreement on regulatory equivalence for agri-food including regulatory cooperation and dispute resolution mechanisms would allow the UK and EU to manage the process of ensuring ongoing equivalence in regulatory outcomes, following UK withdrawal.
Provided the UK and EU could reach a sufficiently deep agreement, this could ensure that there would be no requirement for any SPS or related checks for agri-food products at the Northern Ireland border.
The UK White Paper refers to the single electricity market on the island of Ireland established in 2007. The UK proposes that the new framework for the energy market should
- recognise the importance of cross-border cooperation,
- take account of the strategic importance for Ireland and Northern Ireland of maintaining secure, affordable and sustainable supplies of electricity and gas,
- facilitate the continuation of a single electricity market,
- facilitate continuation of efficient electricity and gas interconnection between the island of Ireland and Great Britain,
- seek to provide certainty for citizens, investors, and businesses on energy arrangements.