LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday it saw no need for new customs infrastructure with Northern Ireland as it unveiled its proposals for how the border with the province would work next year when a status quo transition period ends with the EU.
Britain left the EU in January and has until the end of this year to negotiate an agreement on future ties or start 2021 without a trade agreement, which some businesses say could cause costly delays and confusion at borders.
Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom but shares a land border with EU member Ireland, hampered any agreement between Britain and the bloc until late last year when Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to a so-called protocol.
The EU says the Northern Ireland protocol requires customs checks and controls on some goods coming from mainland Britain into the province in case they were headed further into Ireland and the bloc’s single market.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove described the proposals as the heart of “a consensual, pragmatic approach”.
“Implementing the protocol in this way will ensure we can support businesses and citizens, and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory while upholding our commitments to the EU’s Single Market,” he said.
The government acknowedged, however, “there will be some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland.”
“There will be no new physical customs infrastructure and we see no need to build any. We will however expand some existing entry points for agrifood goods to provide for proportionate additional controls.”
Johnson has repeatedly said, that while the government will comply with the obligations set out in the protocol, it does not see that entailing new checks on goods, saying it already complies with requirements for live animals and agrifoods.
But officials say there will have to be some additional checkpoints, and the EU has become increasingly critical of London’s refusal to explain how they would deal with the border.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Stephen Addison)