What Actually Is The Irish Border Problem?

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Repeatedly we are told that leaving the EU without a deal will cause disastrous problems for the Irish border that are insurmountable.  With childish naivety I would like to investigate exactly what that problem really is.

People?

It’s hardly a sensible route for extra smuggling of illegal immigrants into the UK. with Calais – Dover as porous as it is, why would anyone go Calais – Dublin – Belfast – Liverpool? The reverse route wont be particularly attractive either especially as Ireland isn’t in Shengen, which makes Dublin – Calais a bit tricky (so too that Calais – Dublin inward leg).

Import Duties?

This is more like it. If you move goods from Ireland to NI or vice versa import duties would (maybe, if no trade deal) be collected and paid, as with VAT at the moment.  Ergo some system needs to be there to collect and check, as with VAT at the moment.

For stuff coming from the rest of the world, when you bring a shipment in you declare what sort of things are in it and pay duty and VAT. If you use a shipping company like Fedex it’s all done through them, and they bill you. We are talking about 2 extra pieces of information on the paperwork there – goods category and value. So anything shipped this way is really not a problem.  Solution already there globally, very minor extra admin, a few small local couriers might need some help getting systems in place.
Anything on one of our own lorries might be.  At the moment if a business brings in a lot of stuff from another EU country they have to tell HMRC once a quarter, through an Intrastat submission that collects the goods category and value. That seems to pretty much solve that “Own Lorry” problem with existing documentation. Maybe we need to drop the minimum import value before declaration, maybe change a couple of the questions, or the frequency of declaration, maybe just not actually too bothered.

Smuggling?

But what about people smuggling stuff across the border to dodge import duty? In this definition smuggling is stuff brought across and not declared as an import using one of the easy techniques above.

At present there is smuggling of the usual suspects – booze and fags – and the border force does exist and do actually stop the odd van load and arrest people and stuff.

Pretty much anything bought in Eire will incur Eire VAT at 23%. Businesses can claim back VAT on legal imports, so as a business, unless you are dodging more than 23% duty, it’s better to declare it.

So it’s actually not worth smuggling unless you are an individual, still paying that 23% VAT though.  At which point who cares any more than they do now?  Really it will still be far easier to bring a carload of plonk in from Calais than going the long way round. Maybe we increase the size of the current border force a bit, that’s all, depends how the relative price of fags works out.

Product Standards?

In the UK we trust anything that is CE marked, that means it’s supposed to meet EU standards. Unless we significantly up our standards, there is no UK problem.

Going the other way, if we were to drop standards the EU might get fussy. But even then that’s only cross border retail sales.  Business to business is still fine because the business would then sell it on and hence it would still need to meet EU requirements.  Same as if they imported stuff from elsewhere.

At which point consider just what percentage of knock off iphone chargers and other similar electronic tat currently on sale actually meet the safety requirements of the CE marks they carry?

Food and Animal Standards?

Different rules means different testing requirements. Which is what there is at the moment. Once again there doesn’t seem to be a need to change anything on the UK side provided we think EU food is safe.

If the UK rules change, or we allow US imports that wouldn’t be accepted into the EU then there might be a problem for the EU. But then again that’s more of a “I grew it to EU standards not US ones” declaration. Someone has to take responsibility for ensuring that, usually the importer. That is business credibility and it’s not like we are suddenly going to be putting horse meat in our “beef” lasagne again unless, like last time, someone fibs.

Any Infrastructure at all?

It’s a big land border, so there is no way anyone could police it all even if we could be bothered. 300 miles of Trumpian wall and fence is daft and all it would result in is increased sales of long ladders for the persistent.  Although there are 200 road crossings there are only a dozen major ones.  So even if some sort of occasional inspection was considered required, a few sites somewhere near those where it can happen are pretty much it. Once again, if we could be bothered. But a quick effort to reward equation says, based on all the above, don’t bother. Cost of doing it would be considerably higher than revenue collected from the odd bit of extra smuggling uncovered.

It’s an External EU Border?

That’s it, this is the one. The Irish border problem is that it becomes an external EU border.

The EU being a protectionist bloc with a defensive wall around it. So the big issue with the Irish border, the huge problem, is the EU side of it. Gap in the protective wall. Entry point into the EU for forin invaders with their low regulations and fast product innovation. But that’s not actually the UK’s problem is it?  In fact rather the reason many voted to leave. It is hardly the UK’s responsibility to solve the fundamental flaws in the EU, especially since we already tried and couldn’t, hence the vote.

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