The Labour MP for Leeds Central warned goods coming from the European Union subject to a 10 percent tariff to be paid to the UK after the Brexit transition period ends could enter the country undetected unless a free trade agreement with the Brussels bloc is agreed. But Mr Gove shut down the claim with three simple words, insisting anyone breaking the law would “face the consequences”. Speaking in the Commons via video link, Mr Benn said: “We all hope there will be a trade agreement with the EU but if there isn’t how will the Government stop goods such as cars made in the EU, which under the circumstances would attract a 10 percent tariff, from entering Great Britain via Northern Ireland tariff-free.
“The Right Honourable Gentleman just told the House would goods have unfettered access through Northern Ireland to GB, or would there, in fact, have to be checks if people try to do that?”
Michael Gove, who updated the Commons on the Northern Ireland border issue post-Brexit on Wednesday, promptly dismissed the Labour MP’s warning.
He said: “We’ll have market surveillance and if people try to break the law they will face the consequences.”
Britain said on Wednesday it saw no need for new customs infrastructure with Northern Ireland as it unveiled its proposals for how the border with the province would work next year when a status-quo transition period ends with the EU.
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The UK left the EU in January and has until the end of this year to negotiate an agreement on future ties or start 2021 without a trade agreement, which some businesses say could cause costly delays and confusion at borders.
Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom but shares a land border with EU member Ireland, hampered any agreement between Britain and the bloc until late last year when Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to a so-called protocol.
The EU says the Northern Ireland protocol requires customs checks and controls on some goods coming from mainland Britain into the province in case they were headed further into Ireland and the bloc’s single market.
Michael Gove described the proposals as the heart of “a consensual, pragmatic approach”.
“Implementing the protocol in this way will ensure we can support businesses and citizens, and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory while upholding our commitments to the EU’s Single Market,” he said.
The Government acknowledged, however, “there will be some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland.”
“There will be no new physical customs infrastructure and we see no need to build any.
“We will, however, expand some existing entry points for agrifood goods to provide for proportionate additional controls.”
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said, that while the government will comply with the obligations set out in the protocol, it does not see that entailing new checks on goods, saying it already complies with requirements for live animals and agrifoods.
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But officials say there will have to be some additional checkpoints, and the EU has become increasingly critical of London’s refusal to explain how they would deal with the border.
Addressing Mr Gove in the Commons, Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said that “many fear” the Government is not willing to admit the full extent of additional checks and tariffs on goods.
She told the Commons: “We welcome the statement today but it does expose the broken promises made by the Prime Minister. Today there has been an admission, for the first time, that there will be additional checks, that there will be tariffs on goods at risk of entering the single market.
“Even now, many fear that the Government are not willing to admit the full extent of those. We have seven months to get this right and we must.”
Mr Gove responded: “The approach that we’ve taken is designed to ensure the maximum level of security for the businesses of Northern Ireland and if the protocol is implemented in line with our approach that means they will have unfettered access to the rest of the UK’s internal market and also free access to the EU’s single market.
“That is a great prize and one that I believe all businesses in Northern Ireland would want us to help them to grasp.”