Updated: 13/01/17 : 05:35:27
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Free flow of cross-border traffic if 'hard' Brexit enforced

European customs officials are open to plans by the Irish Revenue Commissioners to continue the free-flow of traffic across the Border in the event of a 'hard' Brexit.

The news will please shoppers from Sligo and the North West region who travel over the border to avail of bargains created by the advantageous Sterling exchange rate created by the Brexit referendum result.

Over recent months, and especially in the lead-up to the Christmas spending frenzy, supermarket and shopping centre carparks in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh were overflowing with southern registered cars with a notable preponderance of Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Roscommon vehicle registration plates.

High on the shoppers' lists was alcohol, electrical goods, bicycles and electronic consoles and games.

A Revenue source said Irish officials were having "encouraging" talks with the European Commission about the need for minimum disruption to normal traffic if customs procedures had to be put in place.

According to the source, speaking to Independent.ie, random mobile checks would have to be carried out, but Revenue does not expect the need for a big increase in enforcement staff patrolling the Border. Nor does it expect fixed customs checkpoints.

As the border with Northern Ireland will become an EU frontier post-Brexit, getting backing from Brussels for any plans will be crucial.

"Cameras and electronics will be part of it," a Revenue source said. "In principle, we think that we can operate a system which will facilitate commercial trade without interfering with normal private traffic.

"We are in touch with the European Commission about just exactly how such a system might operate, and discussions there are quite encouraging."

'Interesting Ideas'

Talks have been taking place between Revenue and industry, while officials have also visited both the Swiss/Austria and Sweden/Norway borders where they have picked up "a number of interesting ideas".

"I'm not sure that either is exactly what we want, but elements of both approaches would be part of our thinking at this stage," the source said.

Seven months on from the referendum vote and Revenue's contingency planning is focusing on ensuring that the Border remains as open as possible post-Brexit.

For this to work, camera technology will potentially be employed. Businesses will have to make customs declarations before their trucks approach the Border. In the event of a hard Brexit, Revenue is planning to establish a register of businesses to simplify procedures for firms.

"Obviously what we'd be seeking to do is to inform people as widely as possible. In the event that this does occur, we'd advise people in advance and try to get as many of them on to the register as possible and simplify procedures," the source added.

It has also been hoped that an integrated, joined-up system could be developed north and south, with contacts between Revenue and its UK counterparts going back to last summer.

Private vehicles will be able to travel freely across the Border, Revenue hopes, but will still be subject to occasional spot checks.

Each adult traveller coming into Ireland from a country outside the EU is currently allowed a duty-free goods allowance of 430.

That, Revenue believes, is unlikely to change post-Brexit, thereby continuing to allow people to travel north of the Border on shopping trips without having to declare relatively small purchases on their return.

Revenue is having ongoing discussions with TAXUD, the EU's taxation and customs division, to tease out the details. The Union Customs Code, which came into effect in May last year, helps Ireland's case.

"[It] envisages much more modern and less interventionist borders than would have been traditionally acceptable in Europe," the Revenue source said. "In our discussions we've been exploring the extent to which this modern thinking in Europe could be applied to the Ireland/UK borders to provide the absolute minimum disruption to normal movement. We're finding TAXUD very constructive in their engagement with that."

However, as discussions are related to customs they are unlikely to take account of any immigration controls that could be put in place. Both governments have repeatedly stressed the need to maintain the Common Travel Area, however.

Although spot checks will be required by customs along the Border, Revenue believes it is unlikely at this stage that large numbers of extra enforcement staff would be required.

"The likelihood is that we don't envisage having fixed checkpoints, but we do envisage from time to time having to use mobile patrols, occasional checkpoints, which already happen around the country to check for things like illicit fuel, or for non-payment of vehicle registration tax," the Revenue source added. "

Extra staff will be required, but mostly for trade facilitation to ensure any new process can run smoothly.

"On the enforcement side, catching smugglers as such, we wouldn't envisage that there would be a huge increase [in staff]."