The Government have announced its plans to “temporarily” suspend almost all customs checks in Northern Ireland in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – even though such an approach risks infringement action under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the foundational treaty on international trade.
Under the GATT, signatories are obliged to offer “most favoured nation” status on an equal basis on all other signatories not covered by a separate trade deal. While an EU member the UK can dispense with customs checks on the Irish border but if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and then refuses to apply customs checks to goods crossing from the Republic of Ireland to the UK it would be open to any other GATT signatory to demand equal treatment and so, effectively, to the abolition of almost all customs checks at all UK ports of entry.
Commenting, Lord Mandelson, former EU Commissioner for Trade, stated:
“Refusing to comply with our responsibilities under international trade law to operate a customs border at any frontier is not a serious or sustainable solution to the problem of a hard border that Brexit - of any variety - threatens.
“Today's ill thought out proposals on tariffs and customs illustrate the political, economic and reputational risk that the Government's make-it-up-as-we-go-along approach poses to the United Kingdom.
“Today the Commons must reject any prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit and on Thursday they should make sure any extension of the Article 50 deadline is used to deliver the clarity about Brexit that has been missing from the last two-and-a-half years of debate."