EU VAT area and pre-commencement requirements

Part of Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 16th July 2018.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Draft Health Service Safety Investigation Bill (Joint Committee) 7:45 pm, 16th July 2018

I am very pleased to follow Sammy Wilson, who has put on the record a great deal of fact and truth about the way in which the Northern Ireland issue has been treated in the negotiations and by the negotiating parties. What he missed out in his remarks was that this was not an issue until the Varadkar Government were elected. The expectation was that there would be an invisible customs frontier in Northern Ireland. That was confirmed by Bertie Ahern when he gave interviews on the subject. It was confirmed by the head of the Irish customs organisation when he gave evidence to the Irish Dáil. It was confirmed by Jon Thompson, the head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, when he initially gave evidence to the Treasury Committee. This was not an issue until it was made an issue.

We are being asked to believe two extraordinary things. The first is that the Irish Republic itself might put infrastructure at the border of Northern Ireland, when the only reason that the Irish Republic recognises that there is a frontier between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is because it signed the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement. Secondly, when President Juncker appeared in front of the Dáil a few months ago and was pressed to give an assurance that he would not force the Republic to put infrastructure at the border, he more or less gave that assurance. In fact, it was perfectly clear that he was not going to say, “We will force you to put infrastructure at the border”, so it is clear that the EU is not going to force anyone to put infrastructure at the border.

It is still the policy of the Government that we might leave even without a withdrawal agreement, on WTO terms. Under such circumstances, we will not put any infrastructure at the Irish border in Northern Ireland, and we will challenge the Irish Republic and the EU Commission not to do the same in the interests of peace in Northern Ireland. It is perfectly possible to manage an infrastructure-free customs frontier in Northern Ireland, and that is what will happen. It is pure obstinacy on the part of the Commission that it will not negotiate with the United Kingdom a free trade agreement on the basis of making an agreement with the whole United Kingdom, instead of excluding Northern Ireland.