37.There are two key concerns about a hard border on the island of Ireland for the movement of goods. First, how compliance with tax and regulatory measures–such as customs duties and product technical standards - can be implemented without recourse to physical infrastructure at the border. Secondly, how new administrative requirements for customs compliance will affect the cost and complexity of trade. We address these questions in this chapter.
38.Customs controls were first introduced to the border following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. In 1972, there were 17 Customs and Excise posts located at major road crossings along the land border. The introduction of the EU Single Market in 1993 eventually resulted in the closure of the last customs posts. Today, goods cross the land border without customs controls because they are effectively domestic products of the EU Single Market.
39.The Irish Revenue Commissioners estimate that 177,000 heavy goods vehicles and 208,000 light vans cross the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland every month. In 2016, the total value of export sales from Northern Ireland to Ireland was £3.4 billion. Businesses in Northern Ireland with fewer than 250 employees accounted for 80% of the cross-border sale in goods. The open border has encouraged the creation of all-island supply chains. The Government’s sectoral report on agriculture notes that the food and drink industry between the UK and Ireland is fully integrated and treated as a single trading unit by businesses. Dependency on cross-border trade is most notable in the agri-food sector. The Government acknowledges that North-South cooperation on agriculture means the island of Ireland has become “a single epidemiological unit for the purposes of animal health and welfare”. Agricultural goods in different stages of production cross the land border for processing and sale. For example, annually:
40.The Single Market and the Customs Union play different but complementary roles in ensuring the free movement of goods. The Customs Union has two key elements; the elimination of tariffs on trade between member states and the application of a common external tariff on goods entering the EU. The EU also applies rules of origin checks to goods imported from territories outside its Customs Union with a preferential trade agreement to ensure these goods pay the correct EU tariffs. For example, goods imported from China under a UK tariff could be required to pay the EU’s common external tariff if they are then traded into Ireland.
41.With regards to goods, the Single Market is a system of common product rules which are applied across the EU. Harmonisation of differing national regulations, such as labelling, health and safety requirements or product standards, mean that goods do not need to undergo checks when travelling across the EU’s internal borders. The UK’s decision to leave the Customs Union and Single Market means that the land border will change from an internal to an external EU customs border. The EU’s external border has two roles: the traditional role of collecting customs duties and taxes and the role of regulatory enforcement of Single Market rules.
42.As a member of the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, there are no tariffs on trade between the UK and other EU member states. Negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship will determine whether EU tariffs apply to goods crossing the land border. In her Florence speech, the Prime Minister made it clear that she does not expect the EU to “impose tariffs where we have none now”. The European Council has also proposed that trade in goods should be subject to zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions. Once it has left the Customs Union, the UK will be able to set its own tariffs on imports from third countries. The Government has stated that it intends to negotiate, and where possible, sign new trade deals with non-EU countries which could come into force after the implementation period.
43.To facilitate the free movement of goods, the Single Market operates under the principle of “mutual recognition”. This means that any good lawfully produced in one member state can be sold in any other. To make this work, the EU has adopted harmonised regulatory standards which ensure that all member states observe, at a minimum, the same product standards. We heard that mutual recognition is “more than just having similar rules”, it relies on judicial enforcement and keeping national legislation in each member state constantly in alignment. When the UK leaves the Single Market, it will no longer be bound by the Single Market’s regulatory standards for goods or accept the powers of the EU institutions, which means UK and EU goods could cease to benefit from mutual recognition in each other’s markets. Regulatory differences can create barriers to trade because the greater the variance in regulations the more checks are required on goods traded between countries. For example, if the UK were to diverge from EU prohibitions on genetically modified food or chlorine-washed chicken it would become necessary to ensure that these goods do not cross the border into the EU via Ireland.
44.Negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU have yet to commence and it is unclear which aspects of EU regulation the Government intends to change in future. In the short term, the Government’s intention is that the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will carry all existing EU rules and regulations into domestic law. The Bill confers significant powers to Government Ministers to amend and repeal retained EU law once it is part of the UK statute book. However, the Prime Minister has said that a “comprehensive system of mutual recognition” will be required and that “UK and EU regulatory standards will remain substantially similar” for trade in goods. The European Council’s draft proposals state that “substantive rules” will align with EU and international standards and that mechanisms to ensure effective implementation, enforcement and dispute settlement will be needed.
45.The prospect of physical infrastructure being used to control the movement of goods has been a central feature of debate on the future UK-EU trading relationship. Several stakeholders told us that it is not possible to simultaneously exit both the Customs Union and the Single Market and fully avoid border infrastructure. Dr Temple Lang, adjunct professor at Trinity College Dublin and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford, explained why the UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and Customs Union has raised the issue of physical infrastructure at the border:
If there were no effective border between the two parts of Ireland, goods could enter the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland without paying any tariffs that would otherwise be applicable, and even more important without complying with EU quality standards and technical requirements or with EU certification.
46.The EU has made clear its concern that the “integrity of the Single Market” may be compromised by the entry of non-compliant goods into the EU customs territory post-Brexit. Michel Barnier said:
We must preserve the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union. The rules for this are clear. The UK said it would continue to apply some EU rules on its territory. But not all rules. What is therefore unclear is what rules will apply in Northern Ireland after Brexit
47.The Government has consistently maintained that the future UK-EU relationship will reconcile leaving the Customs Union and Single Market with the absence of border infrastructure. Conversely, the EU Commission finds it “hard to reconcile” those positions. The EU Parliament passed a resolution on 3 October 2017 stating:
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom excluded any physical infrastructure at the border, which presumes that the United Kingdom stays in the internal market and customs union or that Northern Ireland stays in some form in the internal market and customs union
48.Michael Lux, EU Customs and International Trade lawyer, told the Committee that any alternative to being in the Customs Union, “whether it is a customs union agreement or a free trade agreement”, will require that customs controls take place at the border. Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law at Liverpool University, said:
Even if you reduce tariffs, even if you reduce formalities, even if you have regulatory convergence, there are still customs borders, there are still customs checks.
Similarly, Dr Bartels, Reader in International Law at Cambridge, said:
I think there does [have to be a border], and the border has to do what borders do, which is check for customs, make sure that goods are properly identified in terms of their origin for customs purposes, to make sure that internal taxes are levied at the border, when necessary, and to make sure that the products can be sold. That has to be done and it has to be done both on the EU side and on the UK side. Where it is done, is a question for co-operative agreements.
49.Ireland and the UK’s membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union resulted in the removal of customs infrastructure along the Northern Ireland border. It is unclear whether the UK’s departure from EU rules and tariffs will necessitate new checks on the movement of goods to or from Ireland at the border. However, the Committee welcomes the Government’s commitment that any checks on the UK side will be implemented without recourse to border infrastructure, even if the nature of the checking and its location is yet to be determined.
50.We heard concerns from many stakeholders that leaving the Customs Union and Single Market would lead to an increase in the cost and complexity of doing business. Katy Hayward explained how the UK’s decision to leave may increase administrative requirements on trade;
Where there is regulatory divergence, businesses and stakeholders wishing to operate across a border need to: (i) be aware of the regulatory requirements in both jurisdictions; (ii) comply with two different sets of rules; and (iii) demonstrate compliance with those rules.
51.The Committee also took evidence on the operation of other external EU customs borders. Norway is part of the Single Market but outside of the Customs Union. The Norway-Sweden border is over 1,600km in length, there are 57 crossings and 11 customs offices. Liv Kristen Rundberget, Assistant Director of Norwegian Customs, told us that in Norway everyone declaring goods “has to stop at the border” and must “cross the border where there is a customs office”. Switzerland is also outside the Customs Union and has signed 30 free trade agreements with partners outside the EU. It has over 100 bilateral agreements with the EU which cover many aspects of Single Market rules. Commercial goods entering Switzerland must use designated crossings and complete customs clearance at offices on the border. In Basel, 750 officials at eight customs offices deal with 50% of all Swiss commercial goods traffic.
52.Michael Gallagher, Strategy Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council, told us that during the Troubles a simple delay of 20 to 30 seconds per car at a major border crossing would result in gridlock in the city centre. Dairy UK told us that delays at the border “to facilitate bureaucracy” would be unworkable for an industry which relies on the time sensitive movement of perishable milk products. Michael Lux told us that businesses trading across the border would be faced with the choice of paying a logistics company or hiring new staff to manage customs formalities. The Trades Union Congress told us any new system will “necessarily be more bureaucratic, more cumbersome for citizens, businesses, and government, than what came before.” Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, said:
Any requirement to produce paperwork, any risk in terms of any stops, checks or delays, either at the border or even exiting the EU through Dublin port, that puts in jeopardy that seamless, efficient supply chain that is already in existence
53.The Government has acknowledged that its proposals will result in “an increase in administration compared with being inside the EU Customs Union.” It has proposed that goods traded between the UK and the EU should continue to be exempt from the requirement to submit entry and exit declarations after the UK leaves. HM Treasury claims, in relation to the Customs Bill which sets out the Government’s plans for the UK’s future customs and excise regime, that:
The Government would look to reduce the time and costs of complying with customs administrative requirements through exploring the viability of unilateral measures, primarily in respect of imports [ … ] for example, simplifications such as self-assessment to allow traders to calculate their own customs duties and aggregate their customs declarations
54.The Legatum Institute told us that the Government will need to provide a programme of education and training for businesses in Northern Ireland to help them adapt to new customs facilitations measures. The Freight Transport Association also emphasised that businesses must be given sufficient lead in time to learn new requirements for customs declarations.
55.Additional costs associated with completing customs and regulatory formalities could be damaging for businesses in Northern Ireland that rely on the cross-border movement of goods. Cross-border trade is dominated by small and medium sized enterprises who may not have the resource to hire new staff to deal with customs administration. We recommend that the Government undertakes specific research and analysis to determine the impact of UK customs administration costs for cross-border trade on the island of Ireland. We further recommend that the Government expedites plans for mitigating any costs arising on the UK side of the border.
56.The Joint Report sets out political commitments for avoiding a hard border and preserving the integrity of both the UK and the EU’s internal markets (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Paragraphs 43,45,49, 50 and 51 of the Joint Report
43. The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.
45. The United Kingdom respects Ireland’s ongoing membership of the European Union and all of the corresponding rights and obligations that entails, in particular Ireland’s place in the Internal Market and the Customs Union. The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to preserving the integrity of its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it, as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union’s Internal Market and Customs Union.
49. The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.
50. In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.
51. Both Parties will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU Internal Market and the Customs Union.
57.As discussed in paragraph 12, the Joint Report presents three distinct scenarios for the land border. In the next section, we consider the different options put forward to protect cross-border trade and avoid physical infrastructure at the land border.
58.During her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister said that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”. It is not the preferred option, however the Government has said it will remain an option “literally right up to the moment” a deal is signed with the EU. Following publication of the Joint Report, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, said that no deal is now “highly improbable” but that the Government would continue to plan for all contingencies.
59.We heard that no deal would be the “worst outcome” for the land border. The Freight Transport Association told us this would result in the imposition of a hard border such as the EU external border between Finland and Russia. Katy Hayward said that leaving the EU without a deal:
Would automatically mean the hardest form of an economic border between the UK and Ireland as tariffs would have to be applied both ways and there would be no regulatory equivalence between them.
60.The Government’s position paper on Northern Ireland also acknowledged that the UK cannot solve the issues of the border unilaterally:
The UK must reach an agreement with the EU in order to ensure that the Irish side of the land border, which is subject to relevant EU regulations, is also as seamless and frictionless as possible. The nature of the border clearly means that we must aim for an agreed, reciprocal solution.
61.Trade in goods across the Irish land border must be considered within the context of international trade rules. In the event of a no deal scenario, World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would apply to trade across the land border. Under these rules, every WTO member is required to treat all other members equally. For example, if a country cut the tariff on imports of copper from 10% to 5% for exporters from one country, it would have to charge 5% to every other country. This rule of non-discrimination between members is known as the most-favoured nation (MFN) rule. Customs unions and free trade agreements are an exception to the MFN rule and allow their signatories to give each other preferential treatment.
62.Several stakeholders told us that, in a no deal scenario, the UK would be in violation of WTO rules if it declined to enforce a border. We were told that MFN rules mean that if the UK chose not to enforce a border with the EU in Northern Ireland, it would have to not enforce a border with “the entirety of the WTO membership.” Similarly, if an EU member state such as Ireland did not impose tariffs on exports from the UK, it could be in breach of WTO obligations, as well as the rules of the EU customs union. Katy Hayward told us that achieving a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU was “absolutely critical” for the border.
63.Leaving the EU without reaching an agreement in relation to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland would have very negative consequences. We welcome both the UK and the EU’s commitment to ensuring this does not happen. We note that WTO rules prevent the UK from unilaterally creating an open border with Ireland without offering this to the entire membership of the WTO. We recommend that this reality is specifically addressed in statements made by Ministers.
64.The Government intends that the future UK-EU relationship will obviate the need for a hard border in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister has said the UK will not seek to adopt “a model already enjoyed by other countries” such as European Economic Area membership or a traditional free trade agreement. Instead, the Government wants to design an “ambitious economic partnership” with the EU. In her Mansion House speech, she said that with regards to trade in goods “UK and EU regulatory standards will remain substantially similar” in future and “an independent mechanism” would be required to oversee arrangements.
65.In August 2017, the Government set out two broad approaches for the UK’s future customs relationship with the EU. These proposals suggest how the UK’s decision to leave the Customs Union can be implemented without infrastructure at the border. The first option, “a highly-streamlined customs arrangement”, would use technology-based solutions to streamline and simplify customs requirements. The second option, “a new customs partnership with the EU”, would involve the UK, at its external border, applying EU external tariffs and origin rules for imported goods with their final destination in an EU member state, to ensure that the importer has paid the correct EU duties. For goods staying in the UK, companies would seek refunds where the UK’s import tariffs are lower. This latter option is described as an “innovative and untested approach” which would “take time to develop and implement”.
66.The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the Government’s approach “relies on solutions which have no precedent” and that much greater detail was required on how the proposals would be “monitored and enforced”. It highlighted that the Government’s suggested facilitations “rely on successful negotiation of an unprecedented comprehensive customs partnership with the EU”. Paul Mac Flynn, Senior Economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute, told us the Government’s proposals for a new customs partnership would be a “bureaucratic nightmare” for businesses. The British Veterinary Association said the proposals failed to explain how a border without physical infrastructure can allow for the legal order of the EU to be maintained. The Legatum Institute described the proposals as “bold” and highlighted that implementing them would require the EU to accept derogations from its Customs Union rules. The Prime Minister repeated the Government’s two approaches for future customs arrangements in her Mansion House speech on 2 March 2018. She did not indicate which one, or a combination of the two, was preferred by the Government. The EU’s sequenced approach to negotiations means that discussions on the future relationship will not commence until the end of March, when the European Council agrees its negotiating guidelines.
67.In August 2017, the Government set out some specific proposals to address the unique circumstances of cross-border trade in Northern Ireland:
68.The Trades Union Congress said that the small trader exemption “relies on a substantial amount of trust” and does not address the prevention of smuggling. Paul Mac Flynn highlighted that checks would still be required for the 20% of businesses ineligible for the exemption and that the proposals say nothing about compliance measures. Dr Temple Lang said these arrangements “do nothing to resolve differences in quality standards, technical specifications, or regulatory approvals.”
69.Trusted trader schemes already exist within the EU to streamline documentary requirements and speed up customs clearance at the border. The Government’s position paper acknowledged that current arrangements for trusted traders reduce rather than circumvent checks at the border. The CBI said the current accreditation process for the UK’s trusted trader scheme is costly, time consuming and complex. However, the Legatum Institute said trusted trader schemes could be adapted to “minimise the compliance burden” and allow enforcement to be carried out away from the border.
70.Michel Barnier has repeatedly said that the EU is waiting for solutions from the UK. The Joint Report, published 8 December 2017, also emphasised that it is up to the UK to propose specific solutions. It is clear from these statements that the EU does not view the Government’s proposals of August 2017 as a sufficient basis for agreement. In her Mansion House speech, the Prime Minister made clear that proposals for a Trusted Trader Scheme and cross-border trade exemption remain firmly on the negotiating table. However, she also acknowledged that the UK has “responsibility to help find a solution”.
71.The Government has suggested that the challenges of the border can be resolved using technology. David Davis said he is confident that “the most up-to-date technology” can ensure the border remains non-visible and as light-touch as it is today. We heard that technology can assist in border management but that “it is best seen as an aid to, rather than a substitute for, manual, visible and physical border management”. Paul Mac Flynn highlighted the limitations of digital technology in practical terms:
The point that was made on the Sweden-Norway border, where they have a fully electronic system and people are sharing information, was: “Why are you still stopping people and x–raying trucks? They have told you what they have in their customs declaration”. They say, “How do we know they are telling the truth?”
72.Both Swiss and Norwegian authorities are currently working on digital transformation projects for their customs procedures. In Switzerland, the DaziT transformation programme is intended to fully digitise processes for the importation, exportation and transit of goods in Switzerland by 2026. The programme is expected to reduce requirements for checks at the border and enable customs declarations to be carried out using mobile devices. The Norwegians are piloting an “express-clearance procedure” which would allow some vehicles to pass the border without stopping through electronic pre-clearance of customs documents. Liv Kristen Rundberget, Assistant Director of Norwegian Customs, described how this system works:
When the truck crosses the border, it depends on whether Customs want to control or not. If they want to control, they get a red light and they have to stop at the border. But if they get a green light, then Norwegian Customs do not want to do a control because they have got all the information beforehand.They are doing the control on the documentation, and then there is no need for the truck to stop.
These digitisation projects are still in their infancy and require commercial goods vehicles to cross the border line at designated customs posts. Both Norway and Switzerland also apply Single Market rules which obviates the need for regulatory compliance checks.
73.Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are used at customs borders in Norway, Switzerland and Gibraltar to help prevent smuggling and monitor the movement of vehicles. ANPR cameras are already used in Northern Ireland by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Driver and Vehicle Agency to enforce road traffic legislation. David Davis has suggested that ANPR cameras could be set up on “strategic roads back from the border” in Northern Ireland. The Irish Revenue Commissioners published a draft paper discussing the use of cameras on the border:
An e-flow-style number plate recognition system would allow vehicles carrying goods to move from the Republic to the North and vice versa without having to stop in cases where a pre-departure/arrival declaration has been lodged and green-routed. In theory, upon arriving at the frontier, a vehicle could be identified by the ANPR system, associated with a particular pre-declared consignment and signalled as to whether clearance had been provided or engagement with customs was required
74.The use of cameras in this context would require electronic pre-notification of the movement of commercial vehicles across the border. This is currently required for exports outside the EU. ANPR cameras cannot ascertain if the contents of a vehicle match the electronic customs declaration form so customs officials would still be required to monitor compliance.
75.The Joint Report commits the UK, in the absence of agreed solutions, to a default scenario of full alignment with those rules of the Single Market and Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and protection of the Agreement. The specific solutions so far proposed by the Government are not viewed as sufficient by the EU.
76.We heard a variety of suggestions for implementing compliance measures away from the border. The proposals work on the assumption that different regulatory and tariff regimes will exist on the island of Ireland, and present alternative solutions to traditional border infrastructure.
77.The Institute for Government suggested, in the wider UK context, that the physical border can be separated from where customs clearance takes place. It proposed that investigations and compliance audits could be carried out at the source of production rather than at the border. Sylvia de Mars explained:
Talking about no physical border infrastructure is a bit misleading. We are going to have infrastructure; it just does not necessarily have to be at the border. There will have to be depots, for instance, where things are checked and where spot checks can take place to make sure that all the products crossing the border meet the EU’s internal regulatory standards.
78.Dr Christian Bock, Director General of the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, told us it would be possible to design a customs system without visible checkpoints. He said this could be done using the following tools:
79.However, on the Committee’s visit to Basel it was impressed upon us the extent of physical infrastructure at the Swiss-EU border. We sensed that full customs automation, even in this most sophisticated of economies, was still some way off. The Swiss Federal Customs Administration has approximately 5,000 staff and a total budget of roughly 1.5 billion Swiss francs. Dr Bock emphasised the importance of having border officials with local knowledge and experience to make customs checks. Swiss border guards undergo three years of extensive technical and practical training. Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, also told us that in his experience border officials were far better than machines at spotting suspicious behaviour.
80.A study commissioned by the European Parliament into technological solutions for avoiding a hard border also concluded that it is possible to implement a customs border that meets the requirements of the EU customs code “using a combination of international standards, global best practice and state-of-the art technology”. It proposes that “as much government agency activity as possible” is moved away from the border and customs inspections take place in warehouses or at the importers place of business. Dr Lars Karlsson, author of the report and former Director of the World Customs Organization, sets out the following mechanisms to secure a “low-friction” border for the movement of goods:
81.It must be noted that these proposals rely on the use of automatic “gates” on designated border roads, surveillance via ANPR cameras and require commercial vehicles to notify authorities in advance of the time and place they intend to cross the border. The Government’s proposals include Authorised Economic Operators and digital customs declarations but focus on securing waivers and exemptions rather than proposing enforcement measures away from the border. In contrast to the European Parliament’s report, and Dr Bock’s proposals, the Government’s paper make no mention of cameras, mobile patrols or warehouses for monitoring compliance.
82.The Committee has heard numerous proposals for how the UK and the EU could ensure customs compliance without physical infrastructure at the border. This is currently the case for enforcement in relation to fuel, alcohol and tobacco. These proposals address the question of compliance through mobile patrols, risk analysis, data-sharing and enforcement measures away from the border. However, we have had no visibility of any technical solutions, anywhere in the world, beyond the aspirational, that would remove the need for physical infrastructure at the border. We recommend the Government bring forward detailed proposals, without further delay, that set out how it will maintain an open and invisible border. These proposals should provide detail about how customs compliance will be enforced if there is regulatory and tariff divergence between the UK and Ireland.
83.The Prime Minister has made clear that full alignment is the “default, default option” for the UK. Conversely, Michel Barnier described full alignment as a guarantee that “whatever the circumstances” there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. The EU and the UK have agreed to draft this option into the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement whilst discussing the UK’s preferred two options in parallel. It must be noted that the Commission has acknowledged that full alignment is the “fall-back solution” which will only apply in the absence of other agreed solutions. The full alignment option is described in the following terms:
Figure 3: Extract from paragraph 49 and paragraph 50 of the Joint Report:
49. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.
50. In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.
84.The Prime Minister’s comments following publication of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, which sets out in detail the EU’s proposals for implementing full alignment, suggest the EU and the UK have different interpretations of this joint commitment. The EU has said that its Draft Withdrawal Agreement “translates into legal terms” the progress achieved in the Joint Report. The Commission’s proposals for operationalising full alignment rest on two key propositions:
85.The Prime Minister said that, if implemented, these proposals would “undermine the UK common market” and “threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK” by creating “a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea.” It should be noted that the Joint Report states the UK as a whole will maintain full alignment, unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly “agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland”. It further commits that Northern Ireland will continue to have “unfettered access” to the UK internal market. The Commission’s proposals for full alignment presume distinct arrangements for Northern Ireland and appear to conflict with Paragraph 45 which states that the UK is leaving the Single Market and Customs Union.
86.The Government has explicitly rejected the creation of a border in the Irish sea in both its position paper and the Prime Minister’s commitments to Northern Ireland. Paul Mac Flynn told the Committee that a deal which prioritised trade with the EU would not make sense in terms of trade volumes for Northern Ireland or Ireland. He said a border in the Irish sea “benefits nobody”. Great Britain is Northern Ireland’s most significant market by value. In 2016, export sales to Great Britain were worth £14 billion, 3.7 times more than the value of exports to Ireland. The UK is also crucial economically for Ireland. In 2015, 13.9% of Irish goods exported went to the UK and 25.7% of goods imported arrived from the UK. Two-thirds of Irish exporters also transport their goods via the UK land bridge to reach EU markets.
87.The Government has said that regulatory alignment means seeking “outcome alignment” rather than “harmonisation” with EU rules. David Davis told the Exiting the EU Select Committee that “whatever happens, we will be able to meet the alignment” requirement because agreeing mutual recognition or equivalent outcomes for EU rules is a UK-national issue. In its position paper on Northern Ireland the Government explained how regulatory alignment for agri-food measures could operate:
The UK and the EU agree to achieve the same outcome and high standards, with scope for flexibility in relation to the method for achieving this. An agreement on regulatory equivalence for agri-food, including regulatory cooperation and dispute resolution mechanisms [ … ] this approach could ensure that there would be no requirement for any SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) or related checks for agri-food products at the border.
88.In contrast, the Commission’s draft text simply states that “Union law on sanitary and phytosanitary rules” will apply in Northern Ireland. Following publication of the draft text, Michel Barnier said:
In the absence of EU law that can override national law, in the absence of common supervision and a common court, there can be no mutual recognition of standards
The Government’s proposals on agri-food measures do acknowledge the need for regulatory cooperation and dispute resolutions mechanisms. The Prime Minister has also said that the UK will maintain regulatory standards “as high as the EU’s” and an “independent mechanism” will oversee regulatory arrangements. Negotiations on the Draft Withdrawal Agreement and wider UK-EU relationship will need to determine how these differing interpretations of regulatory alignment can be reconciled.
89.The EU Commission’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement does not properly represent the commitments made in paragraph 49 of the Joint Report. It presumes to make distinct arrangement for Northern Ireland, which is in direct contravention of the democratic provisions set out in paragraph 50. The Committee supports the Prime Minister’s clear rejection of the current proposals in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement which would result in a customs border in the Irish Sea. The issues of the land border cannot be resolved by creating a costly barrier to trade with Northern Ireland’s largest market, neither would such a measure be compatible with the spirit and intent of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. This proposal would also have significant detrimental consequences for the substantial exports from Ireland to Great Britain.
90.The description of the full alignment scenario, contained in the Joint Report of 8 December 2017, is highly ambiguous. Negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement must bridge the gap between differing EU and the UK interpretations of this commitment. We recommend that, as a matter of urgency and in order that citizens and businesses on both side of the border can have clarity, both the UK Government and the EU spell out exactly what full alignment would mean. The Government’s stated intention, that Northern Ireland will be outside of the EU Customs Union and Single Market but require no border infrastructure, is unprecedented. In its response to this Report, the Government should set out in detail how the future EU-UK relationship could make the traditional requirements of border infrastructure unnecessary, citing precedent and the evidence base on which it is relying.
91.The EU and UK are due to start preparatory discussions on the future UK-EU relationship at the end of March. The European Council proposed that negotiations between March-October 2018 should result in a “political declaration” on the framework for future relations. The UK cannot finalise its new relationship with the EU until after 29 March 2019, when it has become a third country. The Prime Minister has proposed an implementation period of “up to, or around, two years” after the UK leaves on 29 March 2019. The European Council has suggested this transition period should end on 31 December 2020.
92.The Prime Minister has said the UK will not be in the Single Market or the Customs Union during the implementation period but expects “to operate on the same terms as we currently do.” The implementation period is intended “to give individuals, businesses and Governments time to plan and initiate changes” to ensure a “smooth and orderly transition”. The Prime Minister said:
How long the period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin that future partnership.
However, when we took evidence from Michel Barnier he was much more optimistic stating in response to a question on whether a trade deal could be concluded before the end of the implementation period:
To attempt to reply specifically to your question, Mr Mills, my feeling is that from March on, we are going to discuss relations. We will have had this political declaration in October and then we will be able to move forward far more rapidly than we have been used to, together with your country. At the moment we are completely integrated commercially speaking, in terms of trade [ … ] I can say that within a short period of time we cannot do absolutely everything. We do have to set priorities, but we will be in a position to conclude at least the free trade agreement, if not more. I will work with that in mind, because we want to ensure good trade co-operation. That is a very important condition in the interests of your country as well as the European Union.
93.The EU Commission has said transitional arrangements should cover “the whole of the Union acquis” and apply to the UK as if it were still a member state. The Government expects to sign a substantive trade deal with the EU immediately after the UK leaves in 2019. It has said the subsequent period should be used to implement “agreed solutions” rather than as an extension to the negotiations. The European Councils’ guidelines refer only to “preliminary and preparatory discussions” on the future relationship taking place before March 2019. Michel Barnier told the Committee he expects to ratify a political declaration which sets out four pillars for the future UK-EU relationship; trade, specific cooperation, home affairs and defence and security by March 2019. However, he also told the House of Lords European Union Committee that:
scoping of the future relationship [ … ] will continue after 30 March 2019. We will need a few years, most likely, to continue with that negotiation on the free and fair trade agreement.
94.The Committee heard that the future UK-EU relationship and arrangements for the border are clearly connected. The Legatum Institute told us:
It is difficult to see how the Irish border issues can be addressed separately from the future trading relationship, as the solutions required for the border will be driven by the agreements on tariffs, rules of origin, product standards, sanitary and phytosanitary measures (food safety and animal and plant health), and mutual recognition of conformity assessment and market surveillance.
95.The Institute for Government found that preparing for the UK’s new customs arrangements will require change “across over 30 government departments and public bodies”. In the past, businesses and organisations have been given years to adapt to Government change. The Trades Union Congress said the Governments proposals for technical solutions represent “blue sky thinking” but it will not have the time to implement anything concrete before withdrawal day. The Legatum Institute suggested that it will be necessary to have an interim period where the UK maintains “close to the status quo” while new border systems are implemented. It said:
It should be borne in mind in this context that technology and logistical solutions can only implement and facilitate the enforcement and monitoring of rules. A legal architecture needs to be in place in the first instance.
96.The evidence we heard from Swiss, Norwegian and Gibraltarian officials emphasised the importance of goodwill and close cooperation in effective border management. We heard that Swiss customs officials at every level meet and collaborate with their French, German and Italian counterparts. This cooperation extends to joint policing by Swiss-German patrols who operate along the border corridor to prevent illicit activity. Norwegian officials also work closely with Swedish counterparts at all levels, facilitated by the regular exchange of control and intelligence data. Joint education programmes mean some customs officials are trained in both EU and Norwegian computer systems allowing them to operate import and export clearance through one window at the border. Norwegian and Swedish officials also have permission to travel up to 50km into each-others jurisdiction when making customs controls.
97.The proposals discussed in this report would require the UK, Ireland and the EU to work closely together to design and implement bespoke solutions for the land border. In her Mansion House speech, the Prime Minister acknowledged that finding solutions for the border would require Irish, UK and Commission officials “working together”. The EU has acknowledged that “flexible and imaginative” solutions will be required to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The Treaty of Lisbon, signed at the European Council in 2007, also demonstrates that goodwill and close cooperation are principles enshrined in EU law:
1. The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation. 2. For the purposes of paragraph 1, the Union may conclude specific agreements with the countries concerned. These agreements may contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly.
98.We welcome the Government’s intention to agree an implementation period. The current negotiating timeline means, in our view, it would be challenging to expect full implementation of a new, non-visible, customs regime by March 2019. We have seen no evidence to suggest that, right now, an invisible border is possible. To provide adequate time for new customs processes to be put in place, the UK may need to remain in or parallel to the Customs Union and Single Market throughout the implementation period. During this implementation period, we call upon the Government to work closely with counterparts in Ireland and the EU to develop an innovative border system capable of delivering customs compliance without traditional physical infrastructure at the border.
99.The Prime Minister has said that, because the UK currently shares the same rules as the EU, the challenge will be managing “what we do when one of us wants to make changes.” Michel Barnier has also identified regulatory divergence of laws and standards between the UK and the EU as a long-term risk. He highlighted that the Single Market allows for “fluid economic exchanges” because “it is a living system that we adapt permanently.” Increased divergence of regulatory and tariff regimes in the UK and the EU could result in the need for greater checks on goods. Similarly, the physical manifestation of a border will depend on the “perceived risk of people not complying with either tariff or non-tariff regulations”.
100.Paragraph 51 of the Joint Report presents a solution for managing divergence. It commits the EU and UK to establish oversight mechanisms which will ensure implementation of any specific arrangements for the island of Ireland do not impact the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union. The Commission’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement also proposes a “specialised committee”, comprised of representatives of the EU and the UK, could facilitate implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and address any difficulties which arise. In both Switzerland and Norway, joint committees, made up of EU and national officials, are employed to resolve disputes and ensure implementation of customs agreements. David Davis has suggested that divergence between the UK and the EU will be managed using mutual recognition agreements and a “robust and independent arbitration mechanism”. He acknowledged that, following the UK’s exit, both sides must be able to trust each other’s regulations and the institutions which enforce them.
101.The Legatum Institute told us that the UK will be able to continue trading in the short term by maintaining EU laws in relevant fields with a view to managing divergence in the long-term. They suggest that in time “the opportunity cost” of maintaining alignment with EU standards may begin to “outweigh the benefits of market access”. Paul Mac Flynn proposed that the decision to diverge from the EU’s common external tariff should be based on an economic analysis of the benefits of a new trade deal compared to the impact of leaving the status quo. He told us:
If we are going to make a trade deal with India, why would we do all the damage in terms of removing ourselves from EU trade first? Why do we not let the Indian trade deal be negotiated and then mark it up against what we would lose if we had to have a different common external tariff because we have different rates of tariff on goods from India?
102.Paragraph 50 of the Joint Report leaves open the possibility for Northern Ireland to make “distinct arrangements” whilst maintaining “unfettered access” to the UK market. However, we heard that new regulatory powers would need to be devolved to enable Northern Ireland to implement distinct solutions. This would also require there to be a fully functioning Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland.
103.The UK and the EU are starting from a point of full regulatory alignment. The extent of future regulatory and tariff divergence will be determined by the EU-UK relationship and future Government policy. The EU and the UK will need to set up mechanisms, such as Joint Committees, to manage divergence in the long term.
104.Northern Ireland, due to its shared land border with the EU, may face complications from regulatory or tariff divergence which are not experienced in other parts of the UK. We call upon the Government to conduct an impact assessment for the border each time it is proposed that there should be regulatory or tariff divergence from the EU. Where appropriate, and in the event of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, consent for regulatory derogations to facilitate the operation of the land border may be sought.
105.Since the creation of the first customs border in 1922, smuggling has been a persistent problem on the island of Ireland. Today, smuggling is concentrated on the cross-border movement of tobacco, fuel and alcohol. These products are subject to different excise duties and VAT regimes in Northern Ireland and Ireland. We heard that smuggling trends are driven by the cross-border price differential of goods. Dr Conor Patterson, Chief Executive of Newry and Mourne Co-operative and Enterprise Agency, told us that smuggling is “corrosive” because it takes people out of the mainstream economy. Excise evasion also reduces public revenue collection and puts legitimate businesses at a competitive disadvantage. On the island of Ireland, smuggling has been linked to the funding of paramilitary groups. We heard that:
An increase in the demand and profitability of black market smuggling would provide ex-prisoners and at-risk youth on both sides with a powerful economic incentive to become increasingly engaged with paramilitary groups.
106.The Legatum Institute has said that if the Government is successful in negotiating a zero-for-zero tariff deal it would remove the incentive for tariff evasion smuggling in the short term. In the longer term, the UK’s decision to pursue an independent trade policy means it is likely that the UK’s tariffs for certain goods will diverge materially from that of the EU. This view was echoed by Paul Mac Flynn who told us;
If the UK left the EU in the morning, it has said it wants its common external tariff to be what it is for EU countries trading. In that sense, there is no tariff differential but if it wants to make new trade deals, it then disrupts what its common external tariff is. That, from that first trade deal, is where it [smuggling] starts.
It is unclear which goods may represent a risk of smuggling in the event of future trade deals. However, it is likely that the smuggling incentive to evade excise duty on cigarettes, alcohol and fuel will remain.
107.The geography of the land border has always presented a unique challenge for border management. There are twice as many crossings between Northern Ireland and Ireland as exist on the entirety of the EU’s eastern border. Daniel Mulhall, former Irish Ambassador to the UK, highlighted the difficulty presented by the location of the frontier line;
It is not like there is a mountain range between north and south in Ireland, or a big river that happens to mysteriously and magically go along the border, where you imagine you could have a small number of control points across that border. This is a border that is invisible.
108.During the Troubles, security installations were erected along the border and a system of approved roads was put in place for travel between jurisdictions. Dr Patterson told us it would now be accepted that all the infrastructure used to create the “hardest of hard borders” was ineffective. Professor John Doyle, Director of the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City University, said:
33,000 members of the Armed Forces were deployed in Northern Ireland. If you talk to veterans, I do not think you will find a single officer who thought the border was sealed for one hour during that period. All the evidence is that it was not.
109.Today, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has around 7,000 officers for 310 miles of border. George Hamilton agreed that hard physical infrastructure had not been successful for policing the border. In his assessment, physical infrastructure at the border would also become the subject of “unhelpful attention” from dissident republicans who view the police or representatives of the state as legitimate targets. He emphasised that officers should not be made into “sitting ducks” due to the predictability of deployment on the border. Rebekka Strassle, Lt Col of the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, also said that static border controls are not as successful as unpredictable controls based on good risk analysis.
110.The border in Northern Ireland has always been porous. Additional infrastructure is not only politically objectionable but, on its own, would be a highly ineffective means of preventing the movement of illicit goods. The most effective way to mitigate the risks of the border would be to devise a customs system which incentivises compliance through simple, low cost administrative procedures and unpredictable intelligence-led enforcement. We call upon the Government to now explain in detail how such arrangements would operate and how the current approach to tackling illicit supply of alcohol, fuel and tobacco could be improved upon.
111.PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton told us that there is an excellent relationship between the PSNI and An Garda Sicohana with cooperation occurring at every level. However, successful policing cooperation requires “a clear legal policy framework” within which to operate.” The PSNI makes use of an “extensive number” of EU justice and home affairs measures in crime prevention. William Kerr, Assistant Chief Constable, told us that losing access to European databases such as Prum and the Schengen Information System was “immensely concerning because it will make it harder for us to do our job”. The ability to share data is important because 43% of organised crime has an all-island or international basis. We heard that offenders routinely cross the land border in an attempt to evade prosecution and exploit differential legislation. George Hamilton asked that action be taken through legislation or bilateral agreements with other EU member states to replace the information sharing arrangements that currently exist.
112.The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) has been described by the PSNI as “essential for tackling terrorism and organised crime” on the island of Ireland. The EAW replaced problematic domestic legislation which was characterised by “protracted extradition battles” to move people from one jurisdiction to another. George Hamilton said that if the UK’s continued participation in the programme was not possible then he would seek “something that mirrors as closely as possible European Arrest Warrant arrangements.” He emphasised that the EAW and access to European databases allows the PSNI to mitigate the risks presented by a porous border.
113.The Government has put forward proposals setting out how the UK could continue to participate in EU security frameworks whilst leaving the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Prime Minister has said that a new Treaty will underpin internal security arrangements and acknowledged that when participating in EU agencies “the UK will respect the remit of the European Court of Justice.” The Government is also seeking a bespoke arrangement on data protection. The European Council’s draft guidelines state that the future relationship should cover:
effective exchanges of information, support for operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
Negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship will determine future access to these policing tools.
114.Policing cooperation on the island of Ireland has benefitted from shared EU legal frameworks for data sharing and extradition. Without access to these resources it would inevitably become harder for the Northern Ireland police service to prevent criminals crossing the land border to evade arrest, with particular implications for security related criminality. We recommend that the Government works with the Irish authorities to prepare contingencies for a bilateral successor to the European Arrest Warrant on the island of Ireland and in the EU, citing article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty.
100 HM Government, , 16 August 2017
101 Colin Murray ()
102 [Katy Hayward]
103 [Daniel Mulhall]
104 HM Government, , 16 August 2017
105 HM Government, , 16 August 2017
106 , Exiting the EU Select Committee
107 Northern Ireland Environment Link ()
108 HM Government, , 16 August 2017,
109 , March 2017, British Veterinary Association ()
110 Article 28, , Euro-Lex
111 [Sylvia de Mars], , March 2017
112 Trade Union Congress ()
113 [Michael Dougan]
114 Prime Minister, , 22 September 2017
115 , in close cooperation with the member of the European Council representing the Member State holding the six-monthly Presidency of the Council and with the President of the Commission, 7 March 2018
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117 [Michael Dougan]
118 [Michael Dougan]
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120 [Eric Pickett], Sylvia de Mars ()
121 , 2 March 2018
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123 Sylvia de Mars ()
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127 , 3 October 2017
128 [Michael Lux]
129 [Michael Dougan]
130 , Dr Bartels, Oral Evidence, International Trade Committee, 13 December 2017
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132 Katy Hayward ()
133 [Liv Kristen Runberget]
134 , [Liv Kristen Runberget]
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136 Dr Bock
137 [Michael Gallagher]
138 Dairy UK ()
139 Trades Union Congress ()
140 [Stephen Kelly]
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143 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
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147 , Hansard Volume 633, 14 December 2017
148 Freight Transport Association ()
149 , Katy Hayward, LSE Blog
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154 Sylvia de Mars ()
155 [Katy Hayward]
156 , 22 September 2017
157 , 2 March 2018
159 , 16 August 2017
160 , CBI, 3 November 2017
161 [Paul Mac Flynn]
162 British Veterinary Associations ()
163 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
164 , 2 March 2018
166 Trade Union Congress ()
167 [Paul Mac Flynn]
168 , Study commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department, November 2017
170 , CBI, 3 November 2017
171 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
172 [Michel Barnier], (6th-9th February), 9 February 2018, , 1 March 2018
173 , 2 March 2018
174 Rt Hon David Davis, , Volume 628, 5 September 2017
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176 [Paul Mac Flynn]
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178 [Liv Kristen Rundberget]
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183 [Sylvia de Mars]
184 [Dr Christian Bock]
185 [Dr Christian Bock]
186 [Dr Christian Bock]
187 [Fabian Picardo]
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189 , European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, November 2017
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191 [Theresa May] Oral Evidence to the Liaison Committee, 20 December 2017,
192 (6th-9th February) 9 February 2018
193 (6th-9th February) 9 February 2018, , European Commission, 28 February 2018
194 , European Commission, 28 February 2018
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200 , 8 December 2017
201 [Paul Mac Flynn]
202 NISRA, , 20 December 2017
203 , Irish Central Statistics Office
204 , Copenhagen Economics, February 2018
205 [David Davis] Oral Evidence to the Exiting the EU Committee, 24 January 2018
206 [David Davis] Oral Evidence to the Exiting the EU Committee, 24 January 2018
208 , European Commission, 28 February 2018
209 , 1 March 2018
210 , 2 March 2018
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213 Rt Hon Theresa May, 18 December 2017
214 , European Commission, 28 February 2018
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216 Rt Hon David Davis, , 1 February 2018
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218 (Michel Barnier)
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221 [Robin Walker]
222 [Michel Barnier]
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224 [Sylvia de Mars] [Paul Mac Flynn]
225 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
226 , 11 September 2017
227 Trades Union Congress ()
228 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
229 [Dr Christian Bock]
230 , [Dr Christian Bock]
231 [Liv Kristen Rundberget]
232 [Liv Kristen Rundberget]
233 [Liv Kristen Rundberget]
234 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
235 , 2 March 2018
236 , EU Commission, 21 September 2017
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240 , 1 March 2018
241 [Paul Mac Flynn]
242 , 8 December 2017
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244 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
245 , 20 February 2018
246 , 20 February 2018
247 Legatum Institute ()
248 Legatum Institute ()
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250 , 8 December 2017
251 [Paul Mac Flynn], Katy Hayward and David Phinnemore ()
252 , Queen’s University Belfast, October 2016, Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
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255 [Paul Mac Flynn]
256 [Dr Patterson]
257 Dr Katy Hayward and David Phinnemore ()
258 , [Dr Katy Hayward] UK-Irish relations, House of Lords Select Committee on the EU, 31 January 2018
259 , Queen’s University Belfast, October 2016
260 Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission ()
261 [Paul Mac Flynn]
262 BBC, , 16 August 2017
263 [Dan Mullhall]
264 [Dr Patterson]
265 [Professor John Doyle], Oral Evidence to the House of Lords EU Select Committee, 30 January 2018
266 [George Hamilton] Oral Evidence to the House of Lords EU Select Committee, 31 January 2018
267 , [George Hamilton] Oral Evidence to the House of Lords EU Select Committee, 31 January 2018
268 , [George Hamilton] Oral Evidence to the House of Lords EU Select Committee, 31 January 2018
269 , [Rebekka Straessle] Oral Evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the EU, 6 February 2018
270 [George Hamilton]
271 [William Kerr]
272 [George Hamilton]
273 [George Hamilton]
274 (George Hamilton)
275 , [George Hamilton]
276 [George Hamilton]
277 [Tim Mairs] Oral Evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the EU, 31 January 2018
278 [George Hamilton] Oral Evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the EU, 31 January 2018
279 , [George Hamilton]
280 HM Government, , 18 September 2017
281 : 17 February 2018
282 : 17 February 2018
283 , in close cooperation with the member of the European Council representing the Member State holding the six-monthly Presidency of the Council and with the President of the Commission, 7 March 2018
Published: 16 March 2018