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Government pumps £650m into Northern Ireland border

Funding for the Northern Ireland border includes £200m for a Trader Support Service and £155m to develop technology to support traders during post-Brexit transition period

The government will provide £650m in funding for technology and systems at the Northern Ireland border to support traders and businesses.

The funding will be announced by chancellor Michael Gove and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis on 8 August 2020, and includes a £200m trader support service “to complete digital processes on behalf of businesses importing goods” into the country.

The government has committed £50m to establish the first phase of the trader support service and has gone out to tender, looking for a supplier.

According to the tender notice, the system, which will be free at point of use, will be available “to all traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and importing goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the world for at least two years” when the future of the service will be reviewed.

The trader support service will need work with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to secure the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) software packages and “ensure community service providers [CSPs] readiness as any third party will only be able to complete declarations once they have a CDS-ready software package available to them, and CSPs are critical actors at some Northern Ireland entry points,” the tender document said.

The government funding includes £155m to fund the development of new technology “to ensure the new processes can be fully digital and streamlined”. The funding also includes £300m for projects supporting “peace, prosperity and reconciliation” in Ireland.

Brandon 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 £200m 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,” he said.

In June 2020, a House of Lords EU Select Committee report on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland  said that the border was far from ready, and although technology could have a very positive impact on making border operations seamless, there is a long way to go before that is the case.

Read more about government IT and Brexit

  • The government has promised a frictionless UK-Ireland border, but currently technology only has the capacity to mitigate rather than eliminate friction, and the government’s technical advisory group on the border seems to be on hiatus.
  • Analyst says UK’s slower response to the coronavirus, combined with Brexit, will have a big impact on GDP and, as a consequence, IT spending will decline.
  • Government sets out an explanatory framework as it seeks adequacy decisions from the European Commission to maintain the free flow of personal data between the European Union, the UK and Gibraltar.

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