£355 million of public money to help Northern Irish firms avoid Brexit red tape

7 August 2020, 00:01

Firms bringing goods into Northern Ireland will be hoped by the extra funding
Firms bringing goods into Northern Ireland will be hoped by the extra funding. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Up to £355 million of taxpayers' money will be spent to help companies in Northern Ireland deal with extra bureaucracy caused by Brexit.

Businesses in the region will receive the funding to help them cope with the additional paperwork associated with bringing in goods from Great Britain or the rest of the world.

The announcement - under the name Trader Support Service - comes as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove visits Northern Ireland.

It is hoped the money will ease the concerns of firms across the Irish Sea that red tape caused by Brexit could disrupt the flow of goods from Great Britain.

Roughly £50 million will be spent initially be spent on the scheme - the full contract is worth up to £200 million - which will provide traders with end-to-end support to deal with import, safety and security declarations.

A further £155 million fund will be invested in developing new technology to ensure the process is fully digital and streamlined.

Northern Irish businesses wanting more to know more can sign up for information about the scheme from Friday before it becomes operational in September.

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The measures are needed because the Northern Ireland protocol requires it to remain in alignment with EU rules on goods, effectively creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea from 1 January after the transition period ends.

That means that digital import and safety and security declarations will be needed to avoid tariffs on trade within the UK and that goods destined for Ireland or the EU pay tariffs when they should.

The Trader Support Service will take care of those on businesses' behalf at no cost, with officials indicating it should be seen as an enduring commitment rather than a short-term fix.

It comes as part of the publication of new guidance on the protocol for businesses moving goods into and from Northern Ireland.

Further support could be provided to cover health certification requirements for agrifoods.

Separately, a further £300 million has been committed to the Peace Plus programme to support reconciliation projects across the island of Ireland between 2021-27.

Mr Gove and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will promote the package during a joint visit.

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"Today's £650 million investment underlines our absolute commitment to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland as we move towards the end of the transition period," Mr Gove said.

"Our new free-to-use Trader Support Service will provide vital support and guidance to traders, while our £300 million investment in reconciliation projects will help to preserve the huge gains from the peace process and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

"As part of our ongoing engagement with Northern Ireland businesses and the executive, we are also publishing further guidance for businesses on the operation of the protocol.

"As we continue to engage with businesses and our discussions with the EU proceed, we will update these resources to ensure that traders are ready for the end of the transition period."

Mr Lewis, said: "Businesses have always been at the heart of our preparations for the end of the transition period.

"This new Trader Support Service backed by funding of up to £200 million reinforces this approach - it is a unique service that will ensure that businesses of all sizes can have import processes dealt with on their behalf, at no cost."