HM Customs duck debate on smuggling predictions

TUV leader Jim Allister said HMRC had given out propaganda instead of addressing the smuggling prediction
TUV leader Jim Allister said HMRC had given out propaganda instead of addressing the smuggling prediction

HM Revenue and Customs has come under fire for refusing to comment on claims by Civil Service chief David Sterling that there would be an upsurge in border smuggling in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

This week it was revealed that Mr Sterling had written to the Northern Ireland Office in December, claiming there could be an upsurge in businesses ignoring new tariff arrangements after a no-deal Brexit, “leading to the likelihood of a step change in the scale and significance of smuggling and organised crime”.

However his comments were challenged by chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Tory MP Andrew Murrison, who said it was “difficult to see why smuggling would increase,” unless regulatory or tariff differences eventually open up between the UK and EU.

However, asked several times by the News Letter to give its expert view on the likelihood of an upsurge in smuggling, HM Revenue and Customs failed to address the question. Instead it issued a generic central government statement, saying that the UK remains committed to avoiding a hard border while upholding the integrity of the whole UK. It added that the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement with the EU will ensure the continuation of “an open border”.

But TUV leader Jim Allister shot back that HMRC “should not be a vehicle for advancing Mrs May’s desperate fight to get her disastrous Withdrawal Deal through Parliament”.

He added: “Yet, when asked by the News Letter for a relevant comment on smuggling - which has flourished under the EU - HMRC churns out Government spin and propaganda.” he added: “The scale of the Government’s ‘Project Fear’ operation is an indication of how unattractive the deal on offer is.”

DUP MP Gregory Campbell MP said it was “little surprise the Government will use all its branches including HMRC to promote their message” about the merits of what he said was “a flawed” Withdrawal Agreement.