More than 10,000 companies have made a million customs declarations to transport goods from Britain to Northern Ireland in 2021, the first year in which the post-Brexit controls, which London now wants to abolish, are operational.
Under the Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of Britain’s agreement to withdraw from the European Union, given its open border with EU member state Ireland, Northern Ireland effectively remained part of the EU’s single market for goods, while the rest of the UK left last year.
This necessitated the introduction of controls on goods transported from elsewhere in the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland. The first set of annual data from the UK tax office showed that 12.4 billion euros of goods required declarations.
The legislation that allows Britain to abolish controls is making its way through parliament, in a move that would increase the risk of a trade war and a new clash between London and Brussels. Liz Truss, the favourite to become prime minister next week, has said she is determined to fully implement the bill.
The bill has received strong criticism from the EU and Northern Irish business groups, who want controls to be relaxed through negotiations and fear that unilateral action by London could negate the benefits they also derived from the protocol.
The Northern Ireland Statistical Office has yet to publish data to compare how trade with Britain performed in 2021 compared to 2020, when no controls were needed.
Trade across the open land border with Ireland has grown rapidly, with goods traffic from Northern Ireland to the south increasing by 65% last year and exports to the UK-controlled region increasing by 54%.