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25 October 2019updated 17 Sep 2021 1:52pm

Is Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal too complicated for the ministers who negotiated it?

Priti Patel, Stephen Barclay and the Prime Minister himself have all struggled to explain what will be happening with goods in Northern Ireland

By George Grylls

Yet another clarification was released by the government today on the thorny issue of goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The government has confirmed that, under the terms of Johnson’s deal, goods travelling from the mainland to Northern Ireland will need to fill out customs declarations.

“Administrative procedures including a declaration will be required.”

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This comes after Priti Patel annoyed the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday by refusing to answer questions on customs.

“I’m not going to speak about hypothetical situations,” said the Home Secretary, in one of the more memorable but less reported quotes of the Brexit saga.

A pattern is now starting to emerge that seems to suggest genuine confusion in cabinet.

On Monday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said that there would be no forms to complete on goods travelling to Great Britain from Northern Ireland.

But then in the same statement to the House of Lords European Union Committee, he admitted that he had made an error. The opposite was in fact true.

“The exit summary declarations will be required in terms of NI to GB.”

Freshly informed, Barclay then passed on the news to his boss in the House of Commons. It was a strange scene to watch.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson appeared to shake his head when the DUP complained about the issue of customs declarations. From the press gallery, it then looked very much like Johnson turned to his Brexit Secretary with a puzzled look on his face. Barclay gave a little confirmatory nod. Unfortunately, the DUP was right.

The government would like the issue of customs declarations to disappear. It embarrassingly undermines Johnson’s central argument that his deal allows the UK to leave “whole and entire” from the EU.

But in any case the support of the DUP for Johnson’s deal has already been lost over the issue.

What is most surprising is that the problem has dragged on for so long and no successful defence has emerged from Number Ten’s communications team.

It seems that figures at the heart of government still have not got their head around the logistical implications of their deal. The question is when will the clarifications end?

“This is too important to be fudged,” said Yvette Cooper, the unimpressed Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. “They need to be straight with people about what checks there will be.”

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