Lord Lilley: Northern Ireland protocol should be replaced by mutual enforcement

The obvious solution is to make it an offense in UK law to export goods from NI to the Republic which do not comply with EU rules.

Critics assume there is no alternative to the protocol that would avoid hard borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic and Britain while protecting the integrity of the EU market.

But there is an alternative.

As the protocol aims to protect the EU internal market from non-compliant goods, it is a hammer to crack a nut.

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Lord Lilley is a former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Social Security

It subjects all goods moving through Northern Ireland and entering NI from Great Britain to all single market laws, regulations and validations. The memorandum is 73 pages containing only the headings of EU laws he wants to apply in Northern Ireland or on goods entering from Britain.

Yet the EU’s only legitimate concern is with that tiny fraction of goods that are firstly actually exported from NI to the Republic (they represent only 0.2% of EU trade) and secondly – in that tiny quantity – only that tiny fraction of goods for which UK standards will in future diverge from those of the EU or breach EU rules of origin.

Currently — while many EU rules have yet to be applied — the EU has not reported a single case of goods crossing the border posing a threat to their consumers or producers.

The obvious solution is to make it an offense in UK law to export goods from Northern Ireland to the Republic that do not comply with EU rules, regulations and standards.

This would require no more border checks than border checks have ever been needed to control the 20% difference in VAT rates between zero-rated goods exported to the Republic and those sold within the NI. Businesses were required, even when we were still in the EU, to register all exports to the EU on the “Europe List” in their VAT returns.

These lists would themselves provide proof of the exported goods. If there are any suspicions that they comply with EU standards, the goods could be checked. But these checks would be carried out at the company’s premises, not at the border.

The EU would not depend solely on the UK authorities enforcing the requirement that goods exported from the UK comply with EU regulations. The EU itself would be able to sue in UK courts any supplier whose goods have been identified as non-compliant by their trading standards officers, customers or competitors (who have a vested interest in reporting the non-compliance) .

This approach is commonly referred to as “mutual enforcement”, as it is generally assumed that it would require reciprocity. In principle, reciprocity would be desirable. In other words, the EU/Republic of Ireland should also make it an offense to export goods to Northern Ireland that do not comply with UK regulations and standards. But reciprocity is not essential.

In the event that the UK takes action under Article 16 or withdraws from the Protocol, it would be sensible and goodwill, unilaterally, to criminalize the export of non-compliant goods to the Republic /the EU even if the EU has chosen not to reciprocate. This would reduce any excuse for “rebalancing measures”.

If the EU refused to reciprocate, the UK could still protect its own market – without border controls – from any EU product that fails to meet our standards (of which there will be very few). After all, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) were convinced that they did not need border checks “under any circumstances” – including if there had been no free-trade agreement. exchange, in which case differential tariffs would have applied to many products.

Since the Trade and Cooperation Agreement eliminates all customs duties on goods from the EU, HMRC’s job would be much easier.

• Lord Lilley is a former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Social Security. This article was first written for the site conservative house

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