why don’t we just call the whole stupid, idiotic, illegal effort off at once?

Boris Johnson cannot be trusted to keep his word, says Arlene Foster
Andrew Sparrow, Groon, Dec 9 2019

On the subject of whether or not there will be checks on goods going from Great Britain (GB) to Northern Ireland (NI) under Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan, it is worth pointing out that the briefing issued by the Conservative party press office on Friday, in response to the document leaked by Labour on this subject, specifically said there would be checks. It said:

The deal ensures that there will not be any tariffs in either direction between GB & NI, and allows for ‘unfettered access’ between GB & NI (Article 6, link). We will ensure no change to trade between NI & GB. There will be checks as goods head into NI, but the only goods that will pay tariffs will be goods that are destined for the Republic of Ireland (RI). Boris Johnson has also managed to ensure that if the UK Government believes that someone has paid a customs fee who shouldn’t have, we have the unilateral power to reimburse or waive any tariff. This means that if we have a majority Conservative government, we can ensure that goods headed to NI never pay tariffs.

When Boris Johnson was running for the Conservative party leadership, he had the enthusiastic backing of DUP MPs. That changed abruptly when Johnson unveiled his plan for a new withdrawal agreement that involved a de facto customs border down the Irish Sea, something he insisted “no British Conservative government” would accept when he gave a speech to the DUP annual conference in Nov 2018. Despite effectively being betrayed, the DUP does not want Jeremy Corbyn to win the election, and during the campaign it is been relatively reluctant to criticise Johnson in personal terms. But this morning Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, did let slip her true feeling about his reliability in an interview on the Today programme. Here are the main points. Foster said Johnson could not be trusted to keep his word. Asked about the extent to which Johnson was seen as someone who could not be trusted by unionists in the light of his U-turn over a customs border down the Irish Sea, she replied:

I think it is right for the leadership of unionism in NI to try to work with the PM of the day to get the best deal for NI. We will always do that. We will continue to do that. I think it says more about the person who broke their word than me and the leadership of the DUP.

When asked if that meant she would not take him at his word in future, she said:

Well, I think once bitten, twice shy. We will certainly be looking for the detail of what this is going to look like.

She said that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had told the DUP that Johnson’s Brexit plan would involve goods coming to NI from GB having to be checked. Johnson has at at times flatly denied this, as he did when he visited Northern Ireland last month, although in an interview yesterday he did say that there would be checks on goods coming from GB to NI if they were destined for RI, having initially said:

There’s no question of there being checks on goods going NI-GB and GB-/NI.

Nick Robinson, the presenter, asked Foster a question the FT’s political editor asked of Johnson directly: Was he lying, or did he not understand the policy?

Foster refused to answer this directly, and she did not directly accuse Johnson of lying or of not understanding his policy, but she said the DUP had been told by HMRC that there would be checks. She said:

Before Boris Johnson announced his deal, I and Nigel Dodds spoke to HMRC and we asked them a number of questions about goods coming into NI from GB, and they were very clear with us that it would mean that all of those goods would have to be checked. Obviously, only those goods that were going to the RI would have tariffs imposed on them. But all of the goods would have to be checked, and that would be the default position.

She said Johnson’s plan would contravene the Act of Union. She said:

That, of course, is very concerning for us, because it goes very much to the heart of the Act of Union. That Act of Union not just talks of political and constitutional union, it also talks about trade, and it says there has to be a free flow of trade between the different parts of the UK. And if we are to have what has been proposed, then it wouldn’t be free-flowing trade. And that of course causes us great concern.

She said Johnson’s plan could lead to shoppers in NI not being able to buy goods on sale in GB, or having to pay a higher price for them. She said:

Most of our goods, particularly in the retail sector, come from GB, and therefore any checks on those goods would lead to higher costs, perhaps even less choice, for people here in NI, and that is completely unacceptable.

NI customs protocol could thwart Brexit plans
Molly Blackall, Groon, Dec 9 2019

NI customs arrangements may thwart Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the EU by Dec 2020, according to a document said to be leaked from civil servants in the Dept for Exiting the EU. In the document, seen by the FT, staff raised concerns about the readiness of the new customs arrangement, calling the protocol to keep part of the EU customs code in NI, a “major” obstacle to Brexit delivery. The FT reported that the document was sent to senior Whitehall boxtops last week and said that implementing the NI protocol before Dec 2020 was a “strategic, political and operational challenge.” The protocol would implement a form of customs border between NI and GB, an alternative arrangement to the NI backstop in the withdrawal agreement. Civil servants reportedly highlighted the “legal and political” repercussions both within the UK and EU of failing to deliver Brexit on time, which Boris Johnson has made the focal issue of his election campaign. Doubt was also cast on the free-trade agreement that Johnson has pledged to establish with the EU next year, with the document marked “official sensitive” reportedly stating:

Delivery on the ground would need to commence before we know the outcome of negotiations.

The government said it did not comment on leaks, but insisted that its deal with the EU would comprehensively withdraw the whole of the UK, including NI. It reiterated its commitment to complete the process before Dec 2020. The exposure came after Labour released leaked Treasury reports last week that concluded customs checks could be required on goods travelling between NI & GB, with the possibility that tariffs could also be imposed. Brexit Sec Stephen Barclay and the government’s impact assessment have both suggested checks could be implemented. Despite this, in an interview on Sunday morning, Johnson told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that the report was “wrong,” insisting that there “won’t be checks” on the goods. However, the PM did admit that some customs checks for items crossing the Irish Sea would be put in place after Brexit, but said these would be applied only to goods travelling to the RI.

Ireland intervenes after Johnson accused of lying about Brexit deal
Jon Stone, Independent, Dec 9 2019

Ireland‘s government has stepped in to clarify the Brexit deal after Boris Johnson was accused of misleading voters over the nature of his agreement. The prime minister had claimed that there would be no checks or controls on the Irish Sea under the treaty he negotiated with Brussels, at odds with the facts. Johnson was accused of lying to voters after he repeatedly insisted that there would be no checks, despite the deal’s actual content. But on Monday Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney intervened, telling public broadcaster RTE that it was “clear” that the new deal includes checks. Coveney said:

It was very clear when the deal was done. The EU has made it clear they want to minimise the impact on goods coming from GB to NI, but at the same time goods coming from GB to NI will need to have some checks to ensure that the EU knows what is potentially coming into their market through NI. You know, we spent many, many hours of discussion in terms of trying to get that right. Goods going the other way from NI into GB will have far less requirement for checks at all, in fact it will probably be limited to an export declaration, because of course that is a matter internally for the UK. So, there was always a distinction between goods coming from GB into NI versus goods going from NI into GB, and we spent many hours discussing and negotiating that, and I think explaining it too.

Labour last week unveiled a new leaked documents which Corbyn said showed Johnson was “deliberately misleading the people.” DUP leader Arlene Foster meanwhile hammered Johnson, accusing him of having broken his word to unionists to prevent checks within the UK, but Johnson stuck to his false claim, suggesting that the Treasury document produced by Labour was “wrong.” He told a BBC phone-in during the election campaign:

We will make sure that businesses face no extra costs and no checks for stuff being exported from NI to GB.

Under the agreement negotiated by Johnson with Brussels, NI would continue to follow most EU rules on food and manufactured goods, with the rest of the UK not doing so. NI would also continue follow EU customs regulations, but would technically remain part of the UK’s customs territory. The government’s own public risk assessment says there would be extra checks and administration applied to goods coming from NI to GB.

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