MPs urge government to clarify position as new EU customs portal risks Northern Ireland trade

The European scrutiny committee has urged the government to clarify its position on major changes to EU customs controls.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, these controls would add customs formalities for traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The EU is moving closer to passing legislation providing for a ‘Single Customs Window’ that links together customs and regulatory IT systems into a single online portal, allowing traders with the bloc to clear goods more easily.

In its latest report, the committee suggests that whilst the government has announced plans for its own ‘Single Trade Window’ it has yet to clarify how the new system will operate in Northern Ireland. Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland must apply EU customs controls. The committee first warned of implications of the EU’s proposals on Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade in its December 2020 report.

Today’s analysis highlights that the government intends for the UK and EU ‘single window’ initiatives to be linked in some way and have initiated discussions with the EU on a joined-up approach. In a letter to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Lucy Frazer QC MP, the Chair of the committee, Sir Bill Cash, asks for detail on how the government is ensuring the interests of Northern Ireland are considered in discussions with the EU and how overlap with the UK system will be resolved.

Chair of the committee Sir Bill Cash said: “Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU’s plan for a one-stop shop to clear goods risks adding customs formalities for trade within the UK where there were none before. One year on from our first report, we are no closer to clarity.

“We are calling on the government to set out how it will work with the EU to ensure UK businesses based in or trading with Northern Ireland are not impacted as well as how it plans to resolve overlap with its own parallel proposals to set up a single customs portal.

“Given the scale of the technical challenge of linking customs and regulatory systems, in both the UK and EU proposals, this must happen sooner rather than later.”