Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has welcomed the publication of the British government's plan to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
However speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, he said there would be scepticism in Europe when they hear the British government saying there will be no new physical infrastructure around customs.
Mr Coveney said the plan appears to be straight forward in relation to animals and in relation to sanitary checks on food coming from Northern Ireland into Britain, however the really tricky area will be around customs.
He said that what we got today was essentially an implementation plan from the British government to follow through on the commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement and in the Irish Protocol contained in it.
Mr Coveney said a lot of technical discussion will be required around the commitments that have been made in this plan.
He said it is very clear in the language of the Irish Protocol that the EU will be entitled to have a presence to ensure its full implementation.
While Northern Ireland will remain legally part of the UK customs territory, it will need to be operated to the rules of the EU customs code. This means that UK authorities will need to implement the EU customs code in Northern Ireland.
The Tánaiste said the idea that this can be done without the need of physical infrastructure will raise a lot of questions on the EU side.
He said that next week there will be technical discussion around how the British government can show that this plan can work in practice.
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He said he had spoken to the British cabinet office minister, Michael Gove, a few hours before the plan was published today and had been sent a courtesy copy, but the Government had not been consulted in terms of the content of this report.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney: 'There will be a lot of sceptical people in the EU when they hear the British government saying there will be no new physical infrastructure around customs in NI...' #Brexit pic.twitter.com/nr61IgwRQk— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 20, 2020
UK not automatically entitled to trade benefit, says EU
The European Union's top Brexit negotiator has said that Britain was not automatically entitled to any benefits that the bloc had previously granted to other partners in trade talks.
As the two sides negotiate a new partnership following Britain's departure from the EU, London's chief negotiator published a letter yesterday accusing Brussels of denying it benefits the bloc has previously granted to others.
"There is no automatic entitlement to any benefits that the EU may have offered or granted in other contexts and circumstances to other, often very different, partners," the EU's Michel Barnier said in his reply.
It comes as the UK said the Irish Protocol does not create an "international" border on the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
According to the eagerly-awaited paper on how the UK will implement the Protocol, seen by RTÉ News, London also said there will be no tariffs on any goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, so long as they remain in the UK's customs territory.
The paper also said there will be no new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland.
The document is certain to prompt further disagreements between the EU and UK over the requirements of the Protocol.
The Irish Protocol is not "codified" as a permanent solution, the paper states.
"It is designed to solve a particular set of problems and it can only do this in practice as long as it has the consent of the people of Northern Ireland," it says.
It adds that the Protocol must reflect the reality that the parts that align Northern Ireland with the rules of the EU's single market and customs union "may not be in place forever".
Today's document, presented to the House of Commons by Mr Gove, is London's blueprint for implementing the Protocol, agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement concluded between the UK and EU last October.
The EU has long complained that the UK has not been putting in place the necessary preparations to facilitate the Protocol.
Today's paper makes repeated reference to the Good Friday Agreement.
It will be a "paramount objective" that both sides protect the agreement when implementing the Protocol, the paper states.
The UK says it wants a "consensual, pragmatic and proportionate" approach to implementing the Protocol, which requires customs procedures and regulatory controls on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, and a new VAT regime.
The Protocol must be ready for the end of the Brexit transition period, which expires on 31 December.
The paper repeatedly emphasises that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK's customs territory.
It says the removal of all internal tariffs is "fundamental" to the nature of a customs territory.
Under the Protocol, tariffs will only be levied on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK if they are at risk of crossing the land border into the Irish Republic, which is in the EU's single market and customs territory.
The UK paper states: "We will not levy tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory. Only those goods ultimately entering Ireland or the rest of the EU, or at clear and substantial risk of doing so, will face tariffs."
The UK does not intend to build any new customs infrastructure to meet the needs of the Protocol, the paper states.
However, the UK would "expand" existing facilities at Northern ports and airports in order to facilitate EU regulatory controls and checks on animals, animal products and food products.
"Although there will be some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland," the paper states, "this will be conducted taking account of all flexibilities and discretion, and we will make full use of the concept of dedramatisation.
"There will be no new physical customs infrastructure and we see no need to build any. We will however expand some existing entry points for agrifood goods to provide for proportionate additional controls."
The paper also says that in terms of goods going from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, there will be no import customs declarations, entry summary declaration, tariffs, customs checks.
Nor would there be any new regulatory checks, additional approvals required for placing goods on the UK market, nor any need for export or exit summary declarations for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
This afternoon Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said the British government's Northern Ireland Brexit objectives must be unmovable.
The DUP voted against the Withdrawal Agreement in parliament over fears Northern Ireland's economic place in the UK internal market would be compromised by the Protocol.
Mrs Foster said: "These objectives must be unmovable foundational positions for the UK government.
"Within this plan it will be important to ensure that these objectives are achieved in a manner that does not saddle individual Northern Ireland businesses with further costly administrative burdens and in particular that the flow of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland are not mired in processes that delay supplies and add costs to consumers in Northern Ireland."
Sinn Féin Brexit spokesman, South Down MP Chris Hazzard, said the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit Agreement should be implemented in full.
"It is clear the British government is planning for border control posts and checks at ports of entry in the North for agri-food goods coming from Britain and elsewhere outside the EU.
"It again highlights the fork-tongued approach the British government have adopted through all of this: using Brexiteer rhetoric and bluster while at the same time accepting it will develop border posts at ports."
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium which represents large traders including supermarkets, said many questions had been left unanswered.
"Both sides must realise that this is not simply an economic issue, this is a standard of living issue for thousands of families across Northern Ireland.
"Northern Ireland household discretionary income is only half the UK average and we are already in very uncertain times.
"We need the UK and EU to agree a way to avoid extra costs on the food on our tables and the clothes on our backs."