Same paperwork is needed for sending GB goods to NI as for sending them to East Asia

Same paperwork is needed for sending GB goods to NI as for sending them to East AsiaBorder Force officials talk to a lorry driver at the DEARA site near Belfast Harbour for inspections, as the UK leaves the single market and customs union and the Brexit transition period comes to an end

Interviews with truckers and businesspeople made plain what many unionists had long feared – that goods travelling from Birmingham to Belfast, or from Liverpool to Londonderry, face significant new red tape and delays. One businesswoman described how she now has to fill in the same paperwork for shipping goods from Yorkshire to NI as she does shipping from Yorkshire to the Philippines – 6,600 miles away in the Far East. Mandy Ridyard, owner of Produmax in Shipley, Yorkshire, sends aerospace components to NI daily and told Radio 4: “What seems nuts is that I’m filling in the same declaration to send goods to the Philippines that I am to sending them within the UK.

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Same paperwork is needed for sending GB goods to NI as for sending them to East AsiaSame paperwork is needed for sending GB goods to NI as for sending them to East AsiaLorries leave the Stena Line terminal at Belfast Harbour yesterday after the Brexit transition period came to an end

“And obviously that adds a lot of cost.

There’s quite a lot of form filling. While that can be automated to a degree, all the information has to be inputted in the first place. “We then use a freight forwarder to lodge those declarations with HMRC; we’re not a big enough company to have our own way of doing that.

“The time it takes to do all those things, plus the direct cost we play the freight forwarder, all adds up.” The first ship to arrive in the Port of Belfast sailed from Cairnryan in Scotland, docking at about 1.30pm. Seamus Leheny, policy manager at Logistics UK, said of 15 lorries on the ship, six were pulled in for inspection – one of which was still awaiting inspection three hours later – “so we’re already seeing the consequences” (though he also said some “teething problems” are to be expected).

Chris Page, a BBC Radio 4 correspondent on the ground in the city docks, described four grey “big empty sheds” in the port acting as “temporary border control posts” where checks were done on goods coming from UK mainland. As a ferry from Cairnryan approached the harbour, he said lorry drivers on board “will have been notified their load has been selected for checking”. “When the ferry docks they’ll drive to the border control posts, their truck will be unloaded, officials will inspect the products they’re carrying to examine if they’re compliant with EU standards – so it is a major change,” he said.

Robert Wilson, a haulier running to NI from GB several times a week, said “the costs are going through the roof”. He added; “We transport farm machinery into NI, and it will need to be divided up to the customers – they’ll have to pay the costs.” The process of checking goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has been in the pipeline for a long time.

Effectively, under the agreement drawn up by the government, Northern Ireland is treated as part of the EU’s Single Market (operating the same kinds of standards for goods as across the EU). And whilst it is not be part of the EU Customs’ Union, it is be responsible for checking the paperwork of goods coming into NI from GB, because these could then move on to EU customs territory in the Republic, over the open Irish border. Michael Gove told the House of Commons last month that dozens of EU staff will be present in NI to help police EU custom rules (though he tried to quell Unionist and Brexiteer fears by saying they will be taking their orders from UK managers).

Here are just a handful of times when top government figures have denied there will be any “Irish Sea border”. In a speech in July 2019, Mr Johnson said: “Under no circumstances, whatever happens, will I allow the EU or anyone else to create any kind of division down the Irish Sea or attenuate [undermine] our Union.” On October 3 in the Commons, he said: “There already are some checks for epidemiological purposes between GB and NI.

“If there are to be new checks down the Irish sea, they will be de minimis [minimal]… there will be no new border posts or borders… whatever checks there may be will be done by consent and introduced only by consent.” On October 19 he told MPs: “There will be no border down the Irish sea. There are already checks for epidemiological purposes.

There will be some customs checks, yes, but there will be no tariffs.” On February 27, 2020, Michael Gove told MPs: “…about customs checks and a border down the Irish sea – there will be no border down the Irish sea, and we will ensure that there is unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the United Kingdom”. Read more on Brexit from this reporter:

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Alistair Bushe

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