The Irish Sea border is real – and the NI public will pay for it, warns logistics expert

The new Irish Sea border will “have a massive impact on daily life”, a senior logistics figure has warned – and consumers will ultimately pay.

Thursday, 7th January 2021, 12:40 pm
Mark Cosgrove said that a single pallet of mixed goods going to a small retailer could now require 200 individual customs codes to be entered in one form

Mark Cosgrove – who has decades of experience in the haulage industry – said that was deeply misleading for Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to claim that “there is no Irish Sea border”.

Mr Cosgrove, who is a senior executive for the UK and Ireland in a large global logistics company, said that the regime which began on January 1 for ‘importing’ goods from the rest of the UK was “crazy” and meant that “Northern Ireland is in the EU from a customs perspective”.

The businessman, who is also a UUP councillor in Antrim and Newtownabbey, said that it was “nonsense” for ministers to suggest that the government schemes to pay companies for some of the extra red tape meant that the issue had been settled or the border did not exist.

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Mr Cosgrove told the News Letter that there was “massive time and complexity to even be able to do a compliant paperwork”.

He said that just one of the new processes – customs – could mean 200 individual customs codes having to be entered for a single mixed pallet of goods travelling from GB to a small retailer in NI.

He said: “My concern for the Northern Ireland economy is that when people look at 2% of the UK market and then consider all this hassle, they will just say ‘stuff it, we’ll not bother with Northern Ireland’.”

The strength of Mr Cosgrove’s criticism of Mr Lewis is striking because he was one of the UUP’s most vocal advocates of its link with the Conservatives a decade ago, and has maintained warm relations with many Tories after that political alliance ended.

Referring to Mr Lewis’s repeated attempts to play down the new border by pointing to existing sanitary and psytosanitary (SPS) checks, Mr Cosgrove said: “This is one of the main myths that the government and Brandon Lewis are trying to spin – we always had control of animals and so this is not a lot different.

“It’s different because all goods require a full import declaration. So even though on the simplified check to get it in [to NI], only psytosanitary food products require it, when the goods have actually got in the importer – which is normally for these purposes in reality the exporter, the seller – they will still have to do a full import declaration, even if they are shipping tiles or ladders or anything else.

“They will still have to do a full import declaration complete with commodity codes, origin of the goods – so if they bought them in China or anywhere else outside the EU there might be duty involved – etc, etc.”

He said it was “constitutionally offensive” that details of goods coming into Northern Ireland were automatically sent to the UK Border Force who then decided whether each lorry would be searched when it arrived.

“It couldn’t be farther from frictionless for the users of the service at the start. What do I think will happen? Business will adapt, business will get used to it – but there will be a cost.

“Consumers will have to pay that cost, and maybe some large retailers will exploit it and charge more than it’s really costing them when they’ve got the opportunity to do so because there will be less people willing and able to do it.”

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Mr Cosgrove said that as a unionist it was “gut-wrenching” to see DUP minister Edwin Poots, whose officials are operating the new border under EU supervision, last week publicly thank Brexit funder Arron Banks.

On New Year’s Day Mr Poots tweeted to Mr Banks: “Thank you for all you done [sic] to make it happen.”

Mr Cosgrove told the News Letter: “I don’t understand how any unionist, given that Brexit has now delivered a border down the Irish Sea and customs control points in Northern Ireland can still thank somebody who put money into the leave campaign ... So we couldn’t have delivered a Northern Ireland broken away from the UK without you [Mr Banks]?

“It’s absolutely disgraceful and gut-wrenching.”

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Alistair Bushe