Experts say Brexit means a customs border in Ireland

RUC and British Army checking cars at the border in the 1980s
RUC and British Army checking cars at the border in the 1980s

Despite Theresa May’s ‘nice words’ to the contrary, unless Northern Ireland remains part of the EU customs union there will be customs check points and a border between the north and south.

This revelation flies in the face of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State James Brokenshire’s promises of a “frictionless” border with the Republic of Ireland following Brexit.

Giving expert advice to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at the House of Commons yesterday, EU customs and international trade lawyers Michael Lux and Eric Pickett told those gathered that May’s “frictionless” border could not be achieved, as even if she decided not to impose customs from the NI side, the Irish government would still be required to under EU law.

Regardless of this expert view, and the implications it has for citizens of the island both north and south, James Brokenshire renewed this pledge on the border before the Commons on the very same day adding that “concepts of special status are the wrong approach” in relation to Northern Ireland.

Speaking for the SDLP, MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell asked him: “What ​assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of exiting the customs union on the movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic?”

In a different chamber, Mr Lux, a customs lawyer with 40 years experience said that if Northern Ireland is removed from the EU “we will have a very different situation than we have today” and that “any goods moving” across that border will have to be checked.

MP Lady Sylvia Hermon asked if Theresa May’s vision for a “frictionless and seamless border” was possible, to which he replied: “These are nice words - seamless flow of goods - I have used them too.

“But what does that mean? If Northern Ireland is not a part of the EU customs territory then there is a customs border.”

Asking Mr Lux if he had been to South Armagh, Lady Hermon said the Prime Minister said “we are not going back to the borders of the past”, to which he answered: “Yes, but Ireland has to do so.

“If you define seamless as no borders - then no.”

“If Northern Ireland remains in the EU customs union then all of these issues don’t arise.”

The Northern Ireland Office has been contacted for comment.