Government refuses EU request for customs office in Belfast and asks officials to fly in regularly instead

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/PA.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The government has rejected a request for an EU customs office in Belfast and asked officials to fly in regularly instead.

The UK insists the office will sow political divisions in the nation while Europe says it will be essential in upholding terms in the Withdrawal Agreement and other trade deals.

Brussels suggested the move was made out of concerns the UK might renege on commitments within the agreement. Officials say that recent grandstanding by Boris Johnson and senior ministers, coupled with a declaration from chief UK Brexit negotiator, David Frost, that the UK will not seek an extension under any circumstance, has created the uncertainty.

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The British government refused a request by the EU to establish a 'technical office' to oversee customs arrangement, instead insisting officials would be better off travelling to the Northern Ireland border from Europe than live in the capital.

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It fears establishing the outpost could exacerbate divisions in Stormont which is split down religious lines.

Ten out of 18 Northern Irish MPs protested against decision and said the office would not only help uphold customs rules, it would also protect protocols enshrined under the Good Friday agreement.

Brussels has said it would be used purely to oversee trade and customs agreements between the UK and EU.

Mairead McGuinness, an Irish vice-president of the European parliament, felt a Belfast mission was a fair trade off. She told The Guardian: 'Belfast is perhaps more neutral than having such an office, tasked with overseeing the protocol's implementation in Northern Ireland, in Dublin or London.'

The decision will be revised on Thursday during a sitting of 'specialised committee' on Northern Ireland.

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