A video has emerged showing Boris Johnson telling concerned business people in Northern Ireland that they will not have to fill in any forms to export goods to Great Britain.
The Prime Minister states: “There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.”
But his claim is at odds with comments from the Brexit secretary last month and from Michael Gove this morning, as well as the government’s official assessment of the Withdrawal Agreement.
‘Throw that form in the bin’
Last night’s video shows Mr Johnson in discussion with a business owner who asks “can I tell my staff we will not be filling in any customs declarations for goods leaving Northern Ireland to go to GB?” Mr Johnson replies: “you can.”
We understand the question came from Irwin Armstrong, who describes himself on Twitter as an “international business founder”, former Vice President and Chair of the Northern Ireland Conservative Party, and ex-board member of the Conservative Party.
The Prime Minister is given several opportunities to change his initial reply, but continues to reiterate his point. He says “if somebody asks you to do that [fill out customs declarations], tell them to ring up the Prime Minister and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin.”
The video ends with Mr Johnson declaring “there will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.”
Contradicting his own cabinet
Mr Johnson’s claims contradict evidence given to the House of Lords European Union committee last month by Steve Barclay, who said: “The exit summary declarations will be required in terms of NI to GB.”
The Brexit secretary had been forced to return to Parliament to correct earlier comments in which he’d suggested — wrongly — that there would be no need for forms.
And only this morning, there was some wrangling after an earlier video came out showing a different part of Mr Johnson’s speech last night. In that first clip, he said “there will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.”
Michael Gove, one of Mr Johnson’s most senior cabinet colleagues, was asked: “The PM said last night that there will be no checks under the Brexit deal — but there will be customs forms that need to be filled in, do they not count as checks?”
Mr Gove replied: “It will be the case that there will be some administrative processes but in no way are they checks.”
At the time, that was broadly consistent with what Mr Johnson was known to have said (assuming you accept that “administrative processes” are not a form of “check”).
But now that this second video has emerged, Mr Gove’s comments could be seen to undermine the Prime Minister’s case.
Remember: Boris Johnson’s latest claim is not simply that there will be “no checks”, it’s that there will also be “no forms, no barriers of any kind.” It’s hard to square this much more strident claim with Mr Gove’s comments that there would be “some administrative processes.”
And that “administrative process” language is not unique to Mr Gove. In October, the Home Office wrote to the Home Affairs Select Committee to say that “there will be a minimal administrative process which is designed to prevent, for example, trade in endangered species.”
At odds with the government’s official assessment
Mr Johnson’s assurance that there would be “no forms” required to send goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain also seems to jar with the government’s official impact assessment, published alongside the Withdrawal Agreement Bill last month.
Discussing “West-East” trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the document states: “Some practical information will need to be provided electronically on movement of goods West-East.”
The impact assessment goes on to say that the arrangements “would result in additional costs” for businesses.
What do the Conservatives say?
A spokesperson for the party told FactCheck: “We will not carry out checks on goods travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The deal explicitly provides for Northern Ireland having ‘unfettered’ access to Great Britain.
“We have agreed with the EU that we will help them to ensure certain types of good – such as endangered species – are not being exported and will be working with them to work out how to implement this agreement.
“We will not enforce any actual checks on movements into Great Britain. We are confident that we can address the EU’s concerns in such a way that there doesn’t need to be any change to NI-GB trade.
“Northern Ireland can vote to end such a process at any point.”
They did not comment directly on the issue of whether forms would be required, which is what the Prime Minister claimed in the latest video.
Boris Johnson told Northern Irish business people last night: “There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access,” referring to moving goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain after Brexit.
But his comments are at odds with his own Brexit secretary who said “exit summary declarations will be required in terms of NI to GB.” Michael Gove and the Home Office have also said that “some administrative processes” would be required.
The government’s official impact assessment of the Brexit deal bill says “some practical information will need to be provided electronically on movement of goods” from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and that the arrangements will incur costs to business.