The Prime Minister’s ambition to have a “seamless, frictionless border” between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be empty words in the event of a hard Brexit, the government has been told.
The message was relayed to the Northern Ireland affairs select committee by two customs lawyers who share decades of border controls experience.
The pair made clear to the committee that the free movement of goods would be legally impossible if Britain leaves the EU customs union.
Retired customs trade lawyer Micheal Lux said that Ireland will be forced to have customs checkpoints along the border to comply with EU law.
Lux said: “If Northern Ireland is no longer part of the customs union, Ireland is obliged to apply all these rules, what is done on the UK side if it’s outside the EU they can do what they want.”
Lux gave evidence to MPs during a two hour sitting. At one point MPs could be heard gasping as he described how every vehicle transporting goods worth more than €300 into Northern Ireland from the republic would have to checked.
Before setting off each driver would need a “export declaration” that would have to checked by a human at the border, Lux explained.
He said, “It is important to understand, it isn’t just about customs, it is also about VAT and excise on alcohol and cigarettes.”
Lux also pointed out that people would need documentation to walk dogs or ride horses in the border region, as is currently the case on the Swiss/German border.
Asked about May’s comments about a “seamless, frictionless border”, Lux said: “Well these are nice words but what does that mean?”
Customs charges, possible tariffs and a subsequent increase in administrations fees could also wreak havoc with cross-border dairy production, Lux said.
Eric Pickett, a lawyer with expertise in World Trade Organisation rules and international trade legislation, told the committee that Northern Ireland would definitely not be granted a “waiver” from the EU because of its special position within Ireland.
He said: “It would be a strict violation of WTO law.”