There will be “additional new” checks on some goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as a result of Brexit, Michael Gove has confirmed.
The Cabinet Office minister outlined an “expansion of existing” infrastructure at the frontier as he set out the government’s plan to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol part of last year’s EU deal.
A new command paper published on Wednesday spells out what ministers are calling a “pragmatic, proportionate way” to manage the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, amid concern from the EU that customs checks and controls will be needed to protect its single market.
Boris Johnson has previously said there “won’t be checks” as a result of his deal.
But Gove said: “Implementing the protocol in this way will ensure we can support businesses and citizens, and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory while upholding our commitments to the EU’s single market.”
He told MPs there would be “some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland”.
But he added: “There will be no new physical customs infrastructure and we see no need to build any. We will, however, expand some existing entry points for agrifood goods to provide for proportionate additional controls.”
The command paper outlines a string of pledges from the government on the border, with ministers promising “unfettered access” for Northern Irish businesses “to the whole of the UK market” by the end of the transition period.
They are also ruling out imposing any tariffs on goods “that move and remain with the UK customs territory”, promising to allow businesses in Northern Ireland to benefit from lower tariffs under trade deals Britain hopes to strike with United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
And it says: “Implementation of the protocol will not involve new customs infrastructure - with any processes on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland kept to an absolute minimum so that the integrity and smooth functioning of the UK internal market is protected.”
The plans have been given a cautious welcome by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which voted against Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal last year amid concerns it would create a fresh divergence between NI and the rest of UK.
But DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is also the first minister of Northern Ireland said the objectives set out by the UK “must be unmovable foundational positions for the UK government”.
She said: “Much more work will be required on the details of practical arrangements, and we will continue to engage with businesses across Northern Ireland intensively to ensure that the issues we face work to the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy.
“The UK government’s decision to establish a business engagement forum to allow Northern Ireland’s businesses to put forward proposals on how to maximise free flow of trade will also provide a further very useful platform.
“The prime minister has previously indicated that the government will want to support the growth of the Northern Ireland economy and we will want to further explore how to best achieve this. We look forward to further and ongoing engagement with the prime minister on all these vital matters.”
Boris Johnson's spokesperson on Wednesday said the Government's "top priority" remained protecing the peace process in Northern Ireland and preserving its "place within the UK".
No.10 added: “The future of the protocol is ultimately up to the people of Northern Ireland, democratically-elected local politicians will decide its fate in a consent vote that can take place every four years.
“A flexible approach is therefore needed to reflect that it may not be in place forever, and to recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.”
However, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said the government had had “finally faced reality; his deal will mean additional checks and processes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
Hitting out at “seven months of denial and mixed messages from the very top”, Haigh added: “While we welcome the engagement today, these proposals are desperately short on the detail businesses and communities are crying out for.
“There are 32 weeks until these changes comes into force, and businesses are still in the dark.”