Revealed: complex post-Brexit checks for Northern Irish traders – The Guardian


The “straightforward” document that Northern Irish businesses will need to complete to send goods to Great Britain after Brexit is a complex form that includes 31 data elements, it can be revealed.

The Freight Transport Association has raised concerns that hauliers could be fined if they get elements of the “exit summary declaration” wrong, and is calling on the EU and the UK to remove it during their negotiations.

The FTA’s head of European policy, Pauline Bastidon, said: “There are up to 31 data elements in an exit summary declaration required to take goods out of the EU now and post-Brexit (ie out of Northern Ireland) when the mode is road freight. Only two of these are optional, meaning 29 data elements are mandatory.

Stephen Barclay came under fire late last year when, as Brexit secretary, he revealed the forms would be required even though it is a domestic trade route.

The news infuriated the Democratic Unionist party, which had been promised there would be no border down the Irish Sea, and was swiftly downplayed by Barclay, who told the DUP MP Nigel Dodds days later that it was a “fairly straightforward” form.

Days later Boris Johnson was accused of misleading the public when he told business leaders on a visit to Northern Ireland that they could throw the form in the bin.

The exit and entry forms are mandatory and are the two parts of what is known as a safety and security certificate. It is required as part of a counter-terrorism regime devised to protect the US after the 9/11 attacks but is not applicable within the European Union. After Brexit, it will apply in Northern Ireland and on trade moving from Great Britain to the rest of the EU.

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Businesses sending goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will not be immune either. They face a form involving up to 45 elements. “Only three of these are optional, meaning that 42 data fields are mandatory,” Bastidon said.

The legal basis of the forms is contained in a complex 557-page document which is almost incomprehensible to an untrained eye.

Transport chiefs and manufacturers must match codes in the document with a complex list of coded data every time goods are booked on to a ferry.

Seamus Lehany, the head of the FTA in Belfast, said: “It’s the haulier who must complete the paperwork. The concern is if a mistake is made and a load refused onboard a ferry, it could then miss its sailing which would have a big impact on ‘just in time’ loads, especially for the retail trade.”

Seamus Kelly, the chief executive of Manufacturing Northern Ireland, said the checks breached the commitments made in Irish border clauses 49 and 50 in the UK and EU joint report 2017, and that “the EU were as much to blame” as the prime minister.

Senior staff at Dover Port said they were also worried. They have previously said the requirement for counter-terror security declarations posed the biggest threat to frictionless trade with the EU.

“The security certificate is our biggest worry,” one source said.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is to visit Belfast on Monday.

His adviser Stefaan de Rynck said the EU would “not tolerate any backsliding or half measures” on the Northern Ireland protocol, and that the UK could face sanctions if it did not implement all three sets of checks: “safety and security”, customs and regulatory checks.

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“There are clear commitments on the UK which are legally binding and have to be implemented,” he told an audience in London on Wednesday.

No government department has supplied details on the declarations since Barclay mentioned them in October despite businesses calling for more information.

Instead, Johnson has been saying there will be no checks, and this week in parliament he told the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson there would “emphatically” be no checks in either direction on goods.

Business leaders from 12 sectoral organisations have called for the EU to waive the safety and security certificate and to minimise the customs and regulatory checks.

Bastidon said: “The safety and security certificates can be done away with if both sides agree.”

De Rynck pointed out that security certificates were not required on goods between Switzerland and the EU but that was because there was alignment on EU rules, something the chancellor, Sajid Javid, has ruled out.



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