Brexit: Northern Ireland businesses not ready for no-deal

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

Image source, PA

Northern Ireland businesses will not be ready for new border procedures if there is a no deal Brexit later this month, senior customs officials have warned.

The HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officials were giving evidence to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee

Jim Harra told the committee that even if border processes were announced today there is "insufficient time for traders who wish to comply to get ready."

The UK will leave the EU without a deal on 29th March unless MPs back the Prime Minister's deal or the EU agrees to an extension.

The UK government has yet to explain in detail how it will operate the Northern Ireland border in event of no deal.

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That in turn means that HMRC has not been able to give guidance to Northern Ireland businesses who trade across the border.

Holding position

The head of HMRC, Sir Jonathan Thompson, was reduced to reading out a line of the government's holding position..

"The government will publish further details on its immediate, temporary arrangements for trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland."

He explained that Ministers are not content for advice to be given until a policy has been announced.

Mr Harra said that while HMRC have been working on processes "we can't tell traders."

That prompted the committee chair Meg Hillier to remark "wow."

Another senior official, Karen Wheeler, said HMRC will not be expecting to penalise businesses who cannot initially comply with arrangements put in place as a result of no deal.

She also repeated the long-standing HMRC position that the agency is not anticipating doing anything that would create a hard border.