Border checks to rise tenfold after Brexit

17 May 2017, The Irish Examiner

Brexit will trigger a tenfold increase in customs declarations on Irish soil and fresh checkpoints close to the border are being considered for when Britain leaves the EU, the head of Revenue has said.

A top civil servant overseeing Ireland’s Brexit negotiations admitted that the Government did not seek a special veto on any EU-British deal — despite Spain securing such a deal over Gibraltar.

The remarks came as the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that member states must individually ratify any fresh trade deal, a decision which could trigger post-Brexit parliamentary votes across Europe over a future relationship with Britain.

Revenue commissioner Liam Irwin outlined to the Oireachtas finance committee yesterday what changes to expect after Britain leaves the EU and how they would impact on trade, especially movements across the border with the North.

He said that the number and value of customs declarations would increase by a factor of ten.

The increase would be due to larger numbers of small consignments being declared. Revenue is also looking at scaling up its IT systems to cope with the increased workload.

The changes were based on the scenario that Britain and the North would be out of the EU’s customs union.

Alterations along the border would not be like decades ago, said Mr Irwin. Instead, movements could now be monitored electronically. Revenue is looking at “electronic declaration”, he said.

Furthermore, up to 8% of traffic would be diverted crossing over, he said, for random checks and assessments.

Rerouted goods need to make “some form of presentation” and facilities for these checkpoints could be “somewhere near the border”, said Mr Irwin.

“We are almost certainly likely to need a transition, it is hard to see this changing over night on Brexit day,” he told Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty questioned whether talk of an invisible border was “fantasy land stuff” as nowhere in Europe had such arrangements.

Mr Irwin said Revenue would try and minimise controls but they are required under EU law.

Mr Doherty reminded witnesses that the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, last week declared that there is a need to “speak the truth” about future customs controls.

Mr Irwin then admitted Revenue is looking at ‘trade-facilitating posts’ in areas about 10km-15km from the border. This is the first confirmation from Revenue of such moves.

Most transactions or trade border crossings would be “immediately approved”, he said, adding that a new system would be electronic.

Between 6% and 8% of traffic crossing border areas would be diverted for document and physical checks, he said.

Mr Irwin suggested there would be no customs stations but rather ‘mobile’ interventions, suggesting that vehicles and revenue officials may police border areas.