Scotland’s Northern Irish border

In the fourth in our series of model letters to elected representatives on burning outstanding questions arising out of the Brexit process, our local groups ask what arrangements are in place to handle the severe impacts of the new border controls between Northern Ireland and Scotland.


I’m writing to ask you to raise with Ministers a number of questions about the impact on Scotland of the de facto border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which will take effect next year when the post-Brexit transition period comes to an end. 

These are questions which demand urgent answers whether or not the UK and EU sign an agreement governing their future relationship before the end of the transition period in December 2020.   They broadly fall into two categories: about the arrangements for new Border Control Points between Northern Ireland and Scotland; and about the knock-on effect of the new controls on Stranraer and the wider area. 

In terms of the latter, there will inevitably be a huge impact, given the critical importance of the ferry route between Cairnryan and Belfast/Larne.  That crossing currently sees 400,000 cars and a similar number of lorries each year.  Even now, road access to Cairnryan is entirely inadequate, with both the A77 and A75 being only single carriageway for large sections. 

As for the new procedures, under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, from 1 July 2021, all live animals, products of animal origin and animal by-products entering Scotland or the rest of the UK from Northern Ireland will have to pass through a Border Control Post (BCP).  Checks and controls will also need to take place on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, with all food products and live animals required to meet the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary rules (SPS).  These checks will be carried out by UK authorities with appropriate supervisory and enforcement mechanisms from the EU.  Furthermore, after the transition period, the UK will no longer have access to the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System in respect of food and live animal imports. The UK Government website says merely that “health certificates and other documentation are being reviewed and further guidance will follow”. 

The UK Government has made a commitment to spend up to £355 million, through its Trader Support Service, to help businesses in Northern Ireland cope with the additional bureaucracy associated with Brexit. However, this does not cover Export Health Certificates, which cost £200 each, or the additional costs associated with SPS checks.  This is important because Northern Ireland will be responsible for enforcing the EU’s customs code at its ports. It raises questions about the level of bureaucracy involved for businesses transporting goods between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

With all the above in mind, I would be grateful if you would seek clarification on the following points:

  1. What action has been taken by the UK government to prepare business for the associated changes?  
  2. When can businesses expect details of a border operating model to be released outlining the new arrangements?
  3. What extra delays should we expect, given the increased paperwork and customs checks, and what action will be taken to deal with the flow of traffic around Cairnryan? 
  4. Given the lack of space at Cairnryan, where will trucks queue? What has been done to consult and inform local people, in particular about the effect on Stranraer town centre?
  5. What planning has been done for the likelihood of bottlenecks on the A77 and A75, given the inevitability of further costs and delays for businesses and local people?
  6. How will the new customs checkpoints work?  How many customs officers will be needed to deal with the additional checks needed, and how much will it cost to recruit, train and retain them?   Will Westminster or Holyrood be responsible?  Will the taxpayer bear the full costs or will these be met by the hauliers?
  7. Ahead of 1st July 2021, what arrangements are being made to deal with health inspections for live animals, animal products and foods imported through Cairnryan? Where will SPS checks take place, what will they cost, and who will meet those costs?  How many veterinarians will be needed and what arrangements have been made to recruit them? 
  8. When will guidance be available for dealing with the imports of food and live animal imports from Northern Ireland, Ireland, EU countries and non-EU countries? What advice and assistance will be made available to help businesses and individuals understand and comply with the new rules?
  9. What action will the UK Government take to help businesses meet the costs of Export Health Certificates (which cost £200 each) and additional costs associated with SPS checks?
  10. On what basis did the Prime Minister tell the country that there would be “unfettered” trade across the Irish sea?

No doubt, as these new measures take place after the transition period ends, new challenges, costs and trade frictions may emerge. However, the end of the transition period is now imminent and the risks of a ‘no deal’ outcome to the UK/EU trade negotiations remain an existential threat to the UK and Scottish economies. I would be grateful if you would raise the above questions to seek clarification on what we can expect from the UK and Scottish Governments and what contingency arrangements have been made to address the problems which this process will raise for your constituents.

Thank you for your consideration of the above points, I look forward to hearing from you.