​UK's no-deal Irish border plan 'raises concerns,' EU says

13 March 2019 12:35

The UK’s plan not to introduce any customs checks on the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit ‘raises concerns’ for the EU, which will check it against World Trade Organization rules, the bloc’s top spokesperson has said.

The UK government this morning said that it won't introduce any customs checks on goods travelling from Ireland to Northern Ireland under a no-deal scenario, to avoid any hard infrastructure on the island of Ireland. It will introduce only minimal checks, away from the border, to safeguard plant and animal health.

“We will carefully analyze the compliance of the UK plan with WTO law and the EU's rights thereunder,” Margaritis Schinas told journalists today. “The differential treatment of trade on the island of Ireland, and other trade between the EU and the UK, raises concerns.”

According to WTO rules, any two jurisdictions that don’t share a trade agreement — which will apply to Northern Ireland and Ireland under a no-deal Brexit — must apply tariffs on any goods traded between them.

It’s not clear how the UK could reliably do this without border infrastructure, according to Peter Mandelson, who has served as the UK’s Northern Ireland minister and the EU’s trade commissioner, among other senior roles.

“Refusing to comply with our responsibilities under international trade law to operate a customs border at any frontier is not a serious or sustainable solution to the problem of a hard border that Brexit — of any variety — threatens,” Mandelson said today.

The Irish border issue has been the main point of disagreement surrounding the existing Withdrawal Agreement, which was rejected by UK lawmakers last night for a second time. Under that deal, the flow of goods across the border would be guaranteed first by the transition period, and later — if no better solution was negotiated — by the controversial backstop mechanism.

The EU, the UK and the Irish government all say they want to avoid a hard border on the island, but until today none had revealed their plans on how to ensure this under a no-deal scenario, which will occur on March 29 unless the UK and other EU governments agree to extend the negotiating process, or the UK government cancels Brexit altogether.

Schinas underlined that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the EU will apply the same tariffs on the UK goods as it does for any other country without a trade deal. 

“This is essential for the EU to remain a reliable trading partner to the rest of the world, including upholding internationally agreed rules on global trade," he said.

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