Brexit – Household name firms looking for smuggling routes to avoid costs

17th March 2020 / United Kingdom
Brexit - Household name firms looking for smuggling routes to avoid costs

Just how bad is the problem of border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland (the EU)? Actually bad enough that even the biggest manufacturers and exporters in Britain are seriously looking for smuggling routes.

Major U.K. companies, including big supermarkets, are eyeing up ‘alternative trade routes’ across the Northern Irish border in the hope of getting around costly post-Brexit customs checks.

Officials who work closely with industry told POLITICO only last week that firms that were planning to take advantage of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, are now looking at doing the same ahead of the transition period ending in December.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement says there will be checks on goods moving across the frontier between Ireland in the EU and Northern Ireland in the U.K. and that there will be checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea in both directions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This is a fundamental ‘red-line’ for the EU.

Although U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this agreement, which Theresa May said no British Prime Minister would ever agree to, Johnson now insists Britain will not actually impose vetting in either direction across the Irish Sea. The EU’s Michel Barnier said two weeks that British negotiator David Frost had reassured him the U.K. will “respect its legal obligations” when it comes to the agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

All borders between the EU and the U.K. will face customs checks if the agreement is to hold. It is now estimated that the sheer scale of form filling will require Britain to employ 50,000 personnel on the borders at a cost of £1.5 billion a year just to tick boxes and file the paperwork.

One industry representative has said some household name firms are looking at using the porous Irish border to avoid customs procedures altogether, leading to an increase of the chances of smuggling and then onto fraud.

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