While no customs export declaration forms would be required (as Northern Ireland will remain in a UK-wide customs area), exit summary declarations will be required to move goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. These declarations represent a new intervention, in addition to existing checks.

Does Brexit deal mean no forms to access Great Britain?

In a tweet published by Manufacturing NI on 8 November 2019, Irwin Armstrong (a former Conservatives NI chair and candidate, and founder of CIGA Healthcare, with headquarters in Ballymena, Northern Ireland) asked Prime Minister Boris Johnston: “Can I go back to my company … and tell my staff that we will not be filling in any customs declarations for goods leaving Northern Ireland to go to (Great Britain)?”

Prime Minister Johnston replied: “You can … If somebody asks you to do that [fill in a customs declaration form], tell them to ring up the Prime Minister, and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin.”

Mr Armstrong then replied, “Because Steve Barclay [MP; Secretary of State, Exiting the European Union] said we would [have to fill in a customs declaration form].”

Prime Minister Johnston replied further: “No … There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.”

What did Steve Barclay say?

On 21 October 2019, at a meeting of the House of Lord’s European Union Select Committee, Lord (Stewart) Wood asked Stephen Barclay MP: “Will Northern Ireland businesses that trade with Great Britain have to complete export declarations?”

Barclay answered, “From Northern Ireland to Great Britain? No, because we’ve said in terms of, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, that it will be frictionless. And so there wouldn’t be export…”
Lord (Stewart) Wood: “Even though the EU customs code says that when goods leave, they do have to complete these declarations?”

Stephen Barclay: “I would have to come back and write to you on that. My recollection was that there weren’t requirements coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain on that, but I’m not sure.” A few minutes later he clarified himself: “Just to be clear, the exit summary declarations will be required in terms of Northern Ireland to Great Britain.”

What is the difference between a customs declaration and an exit summary declaration?

As summarised by the Tax Authorities of the Netherlands, before goods leave the European Union’s customs territory, you must submit a “pre-departure declaration”, in one of three types:

  1. a customs declaration (“export declaration”)
  2. a re-export declaration
  3. an exit summary declaration

If the UK leaves the EU under the current agreement, and Northern Ireland remains as an integral part of the UK and thus its single customs territory (i.e. not part of the EU customs territory), there would be no question of Northern Ireland persons (individuals and businesses) having to complete an EU customs declaration/export declaration of bringing goods originating in Northern Ireland across to Great Britain.

In this regard, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP and Stephen Barclay MP are correct in their statements that there would be no customs declaration or export declarations for Northern Ireland businesses trading with Great Britain.

But trading does not cover the act of merely moving goods across the UK.

Post UK departure from the EU, there is the issue of a boundary on the island of Ireland between a member state (UK) and non-member state (Ireland). The EU will treat this as an economic border, and therefore will want to keep track of goods across it. As a compromise, the current UK-EU agreement allows Northern Ireland to retain access to the EU single market, but Northern Ireland businesses will have to comply with the EU’s custom code by completing an EU exit summary declaration when they move goods into Great Britain.

Effectively, the EU is treating Northern Ireland as if it is in the EU customs territory (de facto), but the EU cannot compel Northern Ireland companies to comply with customs declarations/export declarations (because Northern Ireland will remain within the UK’s custom area, de jure). Exit summary declarations are the compromise for Northern Ireland’s access to the EU single market.

Nonetheless, having to complete exit summary declarations is a new requirement, as an outcome of the current agreement. It is not accurate to say that there will be no forms, checks, or barriers of any kind for goods leaving Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

Image: Photo by Steve6326 used by license Dreamstime.com

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