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Solving The Northern Irish Border Problem After Brexit

There will be no border in Northern Ireland which means customs dues will need to be collected elsewhere.  The simplest solution is for customs dues to be declared as part of a quarterly return by Northern Ireland businesses.  Perhaps VAT liable NI businesses could make a return as part of their VAT return and non-VAT liable NI businesses and individuals could be provided with a quarterly customs form. It would make sense to have a customs free amount of £200 – 500 dues annually so that much of small business is duty/dues free.

Solving the Northern Ireland border problem has only one solution that is compatible with Brexit and that is to collect customs dues elsewhere.

What the Irish and EU government decide to do about borders is up to them.  If they really cared about borderless Ireland they would replicate the UK solution.  Self Assessment is indeed the moral high-ground of the border debate, it is the right solution. If introduced with considerable publicity as the moral option  it would give the EU and Ireland no choice but to accept it.

Enforcement of the self declaration of customs dues is no different from the enforcement of Self Assessment of income tax or VAT.  It is easier to enforce because any attempt to smuggle large amounts of cars or food into mainland UK would be obvious to the customs officials who are normally stationed at Northern Irish ports and airports.  There will be fraud, as there is always fraud around taxation.  The risk to the UK economy is very small because Northern Ireland only exports about £10bn of goods to the mainland annually.

The smuggling of drink and tobacco into the mainland might require special consideration after a year or two.  It may or may not become a problem. However, there are existing customs checks at Belfast for the transport to the mainland of items that attract duty – see for instance smuggling from Belfast to Glasgow.

Is it really so problematical to replace people choosing to go through a Red Channel at a Customs post with people choosing to declare customs liability in the office or at home?

More about importing into Northern Ireland

Many imports come from exporters who know the system for UK imports and will pay the tariffs and complete the paperwork.  These will present little more difficulty than scanning barcodes.

The border issue arises from purchases made South of the border and simply freighted North by the purchaser or a local farmer etc. without documents.

The simplest, though not the cheapest, way to import goods that have no documents is to ask a Customs Approved Third Party Service Provider to manage the process. These are often Freight Forwarders and can be found online.

My recommendation would be for the Government to offer two free training sessions with Service Providers for those who expect to import goods and wish to manage their own documents.  This would involve visiting the Service Provider and being given a guide to importing their goods, samples of documentation and being taken through the process with an actual import consignment.

The Government should also provide an online self assessment system for imports and exports that actually works, not the current system of dispersed “guides” and CHIEF which, charitably, is designed to confuse. The new CDS system may be the answer.

Enforcement would be for the HMRC as it is for Taxes, VAT and Customs at the moment.  During VAT inspections the inspector should examine any large invoices from the South or elsewhere in the EU and request the customs documentation.  Any large scale movements of food and cars out of NI to the mainland might be queried at ports and airports (as it probably is at the moment).  Any large scale suspicious freight activity to locations that have no documentation would be investigated.

There is no need for stopping lorries coming from the South for random checks if a Self Assessment System is used.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog: http://pol-check.blogspot.com/2018/08/solving-northern-irish-border-problem.html

About John Sydenham

Profile photo of John Sydenham
Dr John Sydenham has worked in International Pharmaceuticals and for one of the "big four" International Consultancies. He ran a successful company for 15 years and after selling the company devotes his time to travel, science, black labradors and freedom.

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