Statement on UK Border Proposals
Some clarity from the UK government today is welcome, but detail is required to bring confidence.
Proposals to continue citizenship and travel rights are important, but it doesn’t address the concern about labour issues and the real need from employers here to have access to skilled and semi-skilled labour.
On trade, 99% of our manufacturing firms are SME’s, less than 250 employees, so the proposal to exempt these firms from all customs responsibilities is welcome. However, we’ve been given no idea how that could work, what costs there would be, how it’s monitored or enforced or indeed if it is acceptable. Essentially it means that NI firms would be within the Customs Union whilst also being outside of the Customs Union as part of the UK. Is that possible or acceptable?
It could lead to a rush of GB manufacturers wanting to come and set up in NI to avoid customs requirements but equally, it could see Irish firms using NI as a back-door to the UK market so trade could be distorted.
The remaining large manufacturers, around 60 or so, account for half of all employment and turnover from the sector. They’ll be subject of currently complex and costly red tape and delay being outside the Customs Union. Manufacturers constantly work to remove complexity and cost so this will be difficult for such strategically important employers and exporters.
It is business who will be most impacted and who will be asked to make Brexit work. Efforts need to be stepped up to engage and get ideas about how these and other proposals are made workable.
Given all this, it’s difficult to understand how any guarantees can be provided about the absence of physical borders or customs checkpoints, regardless of any proposed exemptions, unless a comprehensive customs agreement and single market access is delivered.