The land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.The Joint Report of 8 December 2017 sets out three distinct solutions for addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. In doing so, it acknowledges the central disagreement between the UK and the EU about how their joint objectives for the land border will be achieved. This approach allowed the negotiations to move into the next stage but deferred, rather than solved, the central disagreement over how the UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and Customs Union will be reconciled with avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. (Paragraph 14)

The movement of people

2.We welcome the Government’s commitment that changes to the UK’s future immigration system will not affect free movement of people across the land border. Travel across the land border is an integral part of daily life for many individuals living in the border corridor. We recommend the Government sets out in detail how it proposes to apply existing, or whether there will be new, internal immigration controls for EU nationals. In the Committee’s view, the residents of Northern Ireland should not be subject to more onerous documentary checks to determine entitlement to stay and to access public services and the labour market than anywhere else in the UK. It must also establish the resource implications of conducting checks on people away from the border. (Paragraph 31)

3.The Government acknowledges that EU citizenship rights have become confusingly intertwined with Common Travel Area rights. Where the law is unclear, there is scope for misinterpretation. We recommend that the Government clarify, in its response to this Report, how the Common Travel Area provides protection for the special status of Irish citizens in the UK and how this will be maintained following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. If existing law is not sufficient, we recommend the Government set out proposals for placing the Common Travel Area’s associated rights on an unambiguous footing through a draft bill which can then be scrutinised to guarantee in statutory form CTA rights for British and Irish citizens. The Committee further recommends that reciprocal clarification is requested from the Irish Government in respect of UK citizens in Ireland, in the event that it is felt necessary to make CTA rights explicit. (Paragraph 36)

The movement of goods

4.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. (Paragraph 49)

5.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. (Paragraph 55)

6.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. (Paragraph 63)

7.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. (Paragraph 75)

8.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. (Paragraph 82)

9.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. (Paragraph 89)

10.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. (Paragraph 90)

11.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. (Paragraph 98)

12.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. (Paragraph 103)

13.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. (Paragraph 104)

14.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. 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. (Paragraph 110)

15.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. (Paragraph 114)

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

16.The UK’s decision to leave the EU does not change Northern Ireland’s unique constitutional framework under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, however it changes the environment in which it operates. The UK, the EU and Ireland have all made clear and strong commitments to upholding the Agreement, and all subsequent agreements, and protecting the peace process. The institutions and safeguards created to manage cross-border and cross-community relations will remain the corner stone of peace and stability in Northern Ireland after Brexit. However, the EU has a duty under article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty to promote close and peaceful cooperation with its neighbours. The EU’s proposals for what this means in practice should be encouraged by the Government. (Paragraph 120)

17.The Government should specify in its response to this report which existing EU rights and benefits will be available to individuals, resident in Northern Ireland, who choose to hold Irish citizenship, or both Irish and British citizenship. The Government should also set out how the rights, opportunities and benefits open to those who choose Irish citizenship, and therefore EU citizenship, will be funded after the UK leaves the EU. (Paragraph 126)

18.The Committee welcomes the Government’s commitment to protect North-South cooperation under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Cross-border initiatives have been particularly important in improving the infrastructure and public services available to individuals living in the border corridor. (Paragraph 142)

19.North-South cooperation is facilitated by shared regulatory frameworks and governance bodies. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement states that there should be “consultation, co-operation and action” on matters of mutual interest. We recommend that the Government publish the mapping exercise and put forward targeted proposals for how cross-border cooperation in policy areas dominated by EU law will continue after the UK leaves the EU. Where appropriate, and in the event of the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive, EU competencies could be devolved to Northern Ireland so it can balance maintaining UK wide frameworks with EU alignment for cross-border policy areas. In their continued absence, alternative means of taking decisions will have to be devised. (Paragraph 143)

20.The Committee welcomes commitments from both the Government and the President of the EU on continuation of Peace funding. The Government should set out in more detail its proposals for a bilateral successor to the Peace programme, the level of contribution it intends to make to the fund, and its governance arrangements. (Paragraph 152)

21.The Government should clarify in its response to this report whether it will seek to continue funding for cross-border projects under the Interreg programme post-2020. If it is the Government’s intention to replicate this funding through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund it should specify the amount of funding it will make available, whether this money could support cross-border projects in Northern Ireland and the border regions of Ireland and what its spending priorities will be. (Paragraph 153)

Published: 16 March 2018