If we leave without a deal, what happens to the Irish border?

14 March 2019

The UK government has set out its plan for how it would manage the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the immediate aftermath of a no deal Brexit. It was published following parliament’s rejection of the government’s withdrawal agreement for the second time, in March 2019.

The government’s plan specifically aims to avoid an immediate hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland if the UK leaves without a deal in place (which, despite Parliament voting this week to “reject” no deal, remains the default option unless a deal is approved). A ‘hard border’ is the term used to describe physical infrastructure for checks on people and goods on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Currently, there are no tariffs or customs checks on goods crossing the Irish border in either direction. You can read more about why Brexit could risk a hard border, and why both the UK and EU want to avoid one, here.

In the case of no deal, the government says that for a temporary period, there would be no new tariffs on goods crossing the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland, and no new checks or controls at the border.

There would be some new customs requirements on a small number of goods—for example dangerous chemicals, and animals or animal products originating from outside the EU. But the customs measures on these would not amount to checks at the border: importers will either be required to declare trade with the EU (in the case of chemicals) or have inspections carried out away from the border (in the case of animals).

This is a unilateral measure set out by the UK government, meaning it only affects goods crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland. We don’t know if the EU would apply the same measures for goods going in the other direction.

Ireland has to observe the EU’s rules on both customs and on protecting the single market, which would normally require checks at a border with a third country (which is what the UK will be after Brexit). However the head of Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners said in January that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, it is “not planning for customs posts” as avoiding a hard border is the Irish government’s “overriding objective”.

The UK government also emphasised that these measures would be temporary, and that it would continue to seek a permanent, negotiated solution to Irish border situation:

“In a no deal scenario, the UK government is committed to entering into discussions urgently with the European Commission and the Irish Government to jointly agree long-term measures to avoid a hard border.”

Update: this piece has been substantially rewritten following the UK government's publication of its plans for the Irish border in the event of a no deal Brexit.

This article is part of our Ask Full Fact series on Brexit, answering your questions about Brexit and the latest negotiations between the UK and the EU.

You can see all the questions we’ve answered so far here. If you want to ask us your own question, do that here.

Correction 9 August 2019

This article was updated to correct a typo in the line 'there are no tariffs or customs checks or goods crossing the Irish border'. This was supposed to say 'on goods'. We would like to clarify that goods do cross the Irish border.

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