The Prime Minister must abandon plans for a customs partnership with the EU and adopt a technological solution which already exists, a major report says today.
The report ‘Max Fac works: The Technological Solution to the Irish Border Customs Issue’ by Leave Means Leave says that existing technology and best practice is “more than capable of permitting a friction-free border”.
The report, co-authored by Leave Means Leave Co-Chair John Longworth – who was previously the Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce – and trade expert David Campbell Bannerman MEP comes ahead of a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Tuesday which will determine the Government’s policy on the customs union when Britain leaves the EU.
In a significant intervention, the authors of the report warn the Prime Minister that demanding a “solution” to the Irish Border problem as a pre-condition for the negotiation of a trade arrangement is highly likely to prejudice the outcome of the negotiations, and is designed to entrap the UK in a customs union and a “regulatory straitjacket to restrict the UK’s ability to become the close super competitive country the EU is terrified of”.
The report found that Ireland conducts the lowest level of physical inspection in the world (1 per cent) and that 95-99 per cent of goods traded between developed countries avoid any physical inspection at all.
“Most countries now permit traders to submit their customs documentation electronically in advance of the goods arriving at the border, following principles devised by the World Customs Organisation (WCO). Virtually all submissions of the EU’s own Single Administrative Document (SAD), for declaring imports and exports, are now made online. This means that most trade, which arrives from countries which are members of neither the single market nor the EU customs union, suffers little or no hold up at the border when entering the EU. There is no reason for this to change after Brexit.”
It calls for the border to become “less of a physical location and more of a digital record” that would route all import/export transactions through an online portal as well as collecting excise duty/VAT and in the event of a ‘no deal’, import tariffs in either direction.
The report draws on the Svinesund crossing of the Norway-Sweden border. At the Norwegian end of the border, cameras equipped with automatic number plate recognition technology tracks vehicles going across the crossing point. If it looks as though a vehicle is crossing illegally, or there are other reasons to arouse suspicion, a mobile customs unit is dispatched to chase it down and perform the necessary checks.
The Norwegian government has developed a range of smart solutions to cut red tape and delays, all of which are being discussed in Whitehall with regards to the Irish border. Norway and Sweden have a special agreement that allows customs officers from each country to perform checks on the other’s behalf, so vehicles need only stop once. Officers emphasise that they are led by intelligence; so they only start inspecting the contents of a vehicle if they have reason to be suspicious.
In a foreword to the report, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP said:
“This vital trade can continue with the approach outlined in John Longworth’s and David Campbell Bannerman’s thorough, rational and pragmatic report.
“It stands squarely against the politically-motivated hyperbole which has thus far, regrettably, characterised discussion of the border; some have even irresponsibly suggested that Brexit may threaten the Belfast Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland. There is no risk of that.
“The Agreement’s courageous architect, Lord Trimble, rightly dismissed such claims as “rubbish”. As this report shows, a sensible technological solution can ensure continued cross-border co-operation and prosperity in the best interests of the whole British Isles.”
Commenting on the report, Sammy Wilson MP of the Democratic Unionist Party said:
“As this report makes clear – Max Fac is the only option the Government should be pursuing.
“A customs partnership is completely inconsistent with the vote to leave the EU and an extension of customs union membership would be a complete failure on the part of the Government. Both of these options are totally unacceptable.
“A customs partnership would be extremely complex, difficult to operate and would keep us subject to the rules of the single market and under the oversight of the European Court of Justice. By collecting taxes on imports until it was clear that these imports were not entering the EU we would deter anyone signing a free trade deal with us. This is not what people voted for in the EU referendum.
“A technological solution to the border issue can be in place by the time Britain leaves the EU but only if the Government takes the necessary steps to meet this end.
“The Prime Minister must make it clear this week that she has the political will to deliver Max Fac”.
Chair of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg MP said:
“This is a helpful report which shows that solutions are readily available which both allow the UK to leave the customs union and the single market while maintaining a ‘soft’ border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom”.