LeaveHQ, 05/04/2016  
 




In the battle to leave the EU, the situation between the Republic or Ireland and Northern Ireland is emerging as a fault line in the campaign. Specifically, because if we leave the EU the land border between the newly-independent UK and the remains of the EU will also become the external border to the EU.

With the prospect of border checks there are fears that there will be customs posts on the border and huge queues as trucks wait for clearance. But this is a fantasy, whether we pursue a EEA Brexit solution or not. It is wrong to assume that, because the UK would fall outside the Customs Union, it necessarily follows that there would have to be checks on goods crossing the border.

This perhaps harps back to the 19th Century origins of the Customs Union as the German Zollverein, as a means of removing time-consuming and costly border checks. In that case it certainly reflects the limited vision and the extraordinary lack of knowledge displayed by EU supporters.

The myopia is all the more remarkable as in 1949, eight years before the Treaty of Rome which put the Zollverein into effect for the original six members of the EEC, and organisation called the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) launched a scheme to remove cross-border checks of goods in transit.

This system, known as the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) was so successful that it led to the negotiation of a TIR Convention which was adopted in 1959 by the UNECE Inland Transport Committee. It entered into force in 1960. It has since been updated and revised, currently standing as the 1975 Convention, as amended, forever breaking the link between customs control and border checks.

At the heart of the system is a document known as the "TIR carnet", issued to registered transport operators for each truck journey, listing the details of the consignments. These have to be kept in secure load compartments and sealed for the duration of the journeys. The specially marked vehicles are given free passage across borders, with any tariffs or other taxes becoming payable only when the final destination is reached.

Currently, thee million carnets are issued each year, equating to 10,000 trucks a day. Between them, they make 50,000 TIR border crossings daily. And the system has since 2003 been undergoing simplification and computerisation, to become the e-TIR system. As a 21st Century system, it is on its way to emerging as a fully electronic, paper-free operation.

As to Brexit, providing that the UK is prepared to re-enact the Community Customs Code and other flanking legislation to which EU recognition of the TIR system is tied, we could adopt the TIR system for Irish trans-border goods traffic.

This would allow for the worst case scenario, where no trade agreement was reached with the EU. Goods would be subject to varying tariffs and conformity inspections, but there would be absolutely no need for customs posts or border checks.

Where unloading has to be supervised and inspections have to be carried out, there is already an established system of what are known as "inland ports" or "inland clearance depots", where checks can be carried out on goods before delivery. Often, these coincide with break-bulk facilities and local distribution hubs, allowing operations to be combined.

As for the Republic of Ireland, a significant proportion of its trade is with other member states. A significant volume transits through the UK and sometimes other Member States before reaching their final destinations. For this, the EU already has a system in place known as the Community Transit System (CTS), its equivalent of TIR.

By this mechanism, goods travelling between Ireland and other EU Members States can use the system, passing through Northern Ireland, if necessary, and other parts of the UK. There will be no customs checks or physical inspections.

The UK can, of course, go further than the bare minimum provision, relying on TIR. If it joined EFTA, it could then take advantage of the Convention on a Common Transit Procedure, as amended, which initially agreed in 1987. This again allows cross-border movement without the need for border checks, bringing it into the ambit of the EU's CTS. The UK currently recognises this for shipping goods between EU member states. It is used for goods travelling through Switzerland.

Within the EU, the UK integrates the harmonised procedure into our own systems, implementing a substantial body of EU legislation. As part of the Article 50 settlement, it would also be open to the UK to re-enact this body of law, and agree to continue the harmonised system. This would have to be settled during the negotiations, but should not present any undue problems, as long as we don't seek to change anything.

Failing all that, there is the possibility of signing off a special, one-off deal. This is exactly what happened in 2004 with Cyprus to facilitate trade between the divided Greek and Turkish zones. Similar in many respects to the TIR and CTS, this could as a last resort provide a model for trade between the North and South.

All in all, therefore, the chances of a Brexit bringing chaos to Ireland, with new customs posts and border checks, is vanishingly slight. And what could be agreed for Ireland could also be applied to Scotland in the event that it became independent. There is little possibility of reactivating the modern equivalent of Hadrian's wall.

Scaremongering apart – for which the major culprit seems to be the UK Government – there is little for Ireland to fear from Brexit, in terms of any disruption to trade. The day after we leave, reporters on both sides of the border will be scratching their heads, wondering what all the fuss was about, as they find they have absolutely nothing to report.






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