Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister last year, Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU rules on food and manufactured goods, while the rest of the UK will not. Northern Ireland will also continue to follow EU customs rules and will remain part of the UK’s customs territory. This will lead to customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
However, in a speech he gave on Monday, while visiting Belfast, the Prime Minister denied that this would be the case.
He told journalists at a press conference: “I do not see any circumstances whatever in which there will be any need for checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to GB.
“The only circumstances in which you could imagine the need for checks coming from GB to NI, as I’ve explained before, is if those goods were going on into Ireland and we had not secured, which I hope and I’m confident we will, a zero tariff, zero quota agreement with our friends and partners in the EU.”
Mr Johnson’s remarks have elicited a stern warning from Michel Barnier’s senior adviser on Brexit that Britain will be punished if it doesn’t hold up its side of the deal.
Appearing at the ‘Brexit – What Now?’ event held at University College London on Wednesday, Stefaan De Rynck said Brussels would “not tolerate any backsliding or half measures” and inferred that Britain could face sanctions if it did, according to The Independent.
He insisted that customs inspections in the Irish Sea were a joint legal agreement and was the price Britain had to pay for breaking free of the single market and the Customs Union.
Mr De Rynck explained: “2020 will not just be about the future relationship, but also about implementing the withdrawal agreement – notably the Northern Irish protocol.
“We will have to be extremely disciplined to get it up and running in 11 months, to have the UK authorities apply the checks the UK has agreed to apply.”
He added: “That creates quite a lot of preparatory measures and, certainly on our side, we will not tolerate any backsliding or half measures.”
Experts believe that the EU will take the British Government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if it fails to uphold the protocols of the Withdrawal Agreement, which could impose punitive fines on the British Government.
Crucially, the ECJ retains the power to fine the UK even after the transition period ends at the end of 2020, a fact that is likely to infuriate hardline Brexiters.
The senior adviser to Michel Barnier also warned the UK would face action if it did not secure the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, as well as claiming that 11 months was a very short time to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
This comes as the Prime Minister’s Brussels deal was finally approved by Parliament on Wednesday evening.
After years of Westminster wrangling, Mr Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill is expected to be enshrined in law by gaining the Royal Assent on Thursday.
MPs on Wednesday rejected five last-ditch amendments to the legislation made by the House of Lords.
And tonight peers shied away from a constitutional clash by accepting the verdict of the Commons and dropping the amendments.
Their climbdown meant the Prime Minister’s deal with Brussels was formally ratified and the UK’s departure from the EU a week tomorrow is set to become law.
Hailing the end of the long Westminster war over Brexit, the Prime Minister said: “Parliament has passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, meaning we will leave the EU on 31 January and move forward as one United Kingdom.
“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.
“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country.”
Mr Johnson is expected to finalise the ratification process with EU chiefs before personally signing the historic Withdrawal Agreement.