The government has announced plans to spend £650 million of taxpayers’ money to support Northern Ireland businesses facing a wave of bureaucracy caused by Brexit.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the funds would help firms deal with a tidal wave of new paperwork associated with importing goods from Britain or the rest of the world while after Brexit.
The new Trader Support Service, as it is being dubbed, is aimed at helping Northern Ireland businesses cope with new red tape which could disrupt the flow of goods from Britain, the minister announced during a visit to the region.
An initial £50 million will set up the service, with the full contract worth up to £200 million.
The money will go towards helping businesses with end-to-end support to deal with import, safety and security declarations on behalf of traders. Another £155 million will go into digitizing the entire customs declarations process.
Downing Street are scrambling to ensure the region meets its end of the Northern Ireland protocol, which requires it to remain in alignment with EU rules on goods, effectively creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea from January 1, 2021.
The region will face tariffs on trade within the UK and the outside world unless the customs process is streamlined and digitized.
The new service is outlined as part of the publication of new guidance on the protocol for businesses moving goods to and from Northern Ireland.
Further support could be provided to cover health certification requirements for agrifoods.
Separately, a further £300 million has been committed to the Peace Plus programme to support reconciliation projects across the island of Ireland from 2021-27.
Aodhan Connolly, who represents Northern Ireland supermarkets, told The Irish Times the development has been welcomed within the retail industry.
‘Removing the cost of customs transactions and tariffs from goods coming into Northern Ireland will have a positive impact on protecting the choice and affordability that NI households so desperately want.’
But he said a number of obstacles still remained for retailers.
‘The UK government’s recognition of the unique position of authorised traders, such as supermarkets, with stable certified supply chains is a great step forward and shows that government has listened to our concerns for supermarkets and look forward to developing a workable and robust solution,’ said the retail spokesperson.
‘We will also ask the EU for a generosity of spirit to allow this mitigation to be delivered. Quite simply without mitigations on Export Health Certificates which cost £200 each and SPS checks, either products or business models will become unviable.
‘That will drive up prices and limit choice for already hard pressed NI consumers who have half of the discretionary income of GB households. This progress is welcome but the clock is ticking.’
Gove and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will promote the package during a joint visit.
‘Today’s £650 million investment underlines our absolute commitment to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland as we move towards the end of the transition period,’ Gove said.
‘As part of our ongoing engagement with Northern Ireland businesses and the executive, we are also publishing further guidance for businesses on the operation of the protocol.
‘As we continue to engage with businesses and our discussions with the EU proceed, we will update these resources to ensure that traders are ready for the end of the transition period.’