Senior Irish politician suggests “Max Fac” Brexit customs plan would lead to a return of violence along the Irish border

Posted By: May 09, 2018

• Neale Richmond said any extra checks along the border would spark bloodshed. 

• Suggests Max Fac plan of using technology to minimize checks not workable
• He urged UK to stay in customs arrangement or partnership with EU post Brexit
• Cabinet at war over a plan with Boris Johnson branding customs partnership crazy

Kate Ferguson. Daily Mail. England. Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Theresa May’s proposal for a “Max Fac” post-Brexit customs plan with the EU would lead to violence along the Irish border, a senior Irish politician has suggested.

Neale Richmond, chairman of the Irish Senate’s Brexit committee, said any customs checks would see a return to sectarian bloodshed.

And he called for the UK to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit – meaning the country would stay in the single market and may have to accept free movement. 

His intervention will be seen as part of a bid by Remainers and the EU to pile pressure on the PM to force her to soften her Brexit plans.

A bitter row is raging in the heart of the Tory party over what customs arrangement to have with the EU after the country quits the bloc.

Mrs. May’s government has put forward two options – including a customs partnership which will see the UK collect the EU’s tariffs at the border, the idea the PM personally prefers.

The second – backed by Brexiteers – is dubbed the “max fac” option which aims to minimize the need for customs checks by using technology and trusted trader status but accepts they cannot eliminate them altogether.

Mr. Richmond said any extra customs checks would result in a return to violence along the border.

Writing in The Times, he said: “Put simply, any customs checks on the Irish border and the related infrastructure would lead to a return to violence.” 

“This is not fearmongering or politically motivated rhetoric — it is the stated opinion of both police forces on the island of Ireland.”

“As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish government is bound to maintain the levels of normality that have allowed peace to prosper.”

He warned the PM that to keep trade flowing freely over the border, she must keep the UK in the EEA post-Brexit.

This would flout one of Mrs. May’s “red lines” as she has vowed to take the UK out of the single market after Brexit.

Mr. Richmond added: “A UK in the EEA and with a strong customs union, partnership or association will ensure the least hard Brexit.”

His intervention comes as Tory Cabinet divisions over post-Brexit customs policy have been thrust into the limelight. 

Boris Johnson described Mrs. May’s proposal of a customs partnership as ‘crazy’ – exposing the deep rift in the heart of Government between Brexiteers and Remainers. 

The outspoken attack raises the prospect that Mr. Johnson could quit if Mrs. May does not drop the idea. 

Some anti-Brexit Tory backbenchers have rounded on the Foreign Secretary for flouting Cabinet rules by openly voicing his opposition to the plan.

But Number 10 has insisted both customs arrangements are still on the table and being considered.

While the Prime Minister’s official spokesman today said Mr. Johnson retains the PM’s confidence. 

The two proposals for the UK’s post-Brexit customs plans


Under the so-called “hybrid model,” the UK would collect EU import tariffs on behalf of Brussels.

Britain would be responsible for tracking the origin and final destination of goods coming into the country from outside the EU. The government would also have to ensure all products meet the bloc’s standards.

Firms selling directly into the UK market would pay the tariff levels set by Brussels – but would then get a rebate if Britain’s tariffs are lower.

Supporters of the hybrid plan in Cabinet – including Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Greg Clark – say keeping duties aligned up front would avoid the need for physical customs borders between the UK and EU.

As a result, it could solve the thorny issue over creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mrs. May has been advised by the chief whip that the hybrid option could be the only way of securing a majority in parliament for a Brexit deal.

But Brexiteers regard the proposal as unworkable and cumbersome – and they were joined by Sajid Javid and Gavin Williamson in criticising it at a tense “War Cabinet” meeting last week.

There are fears the experimental system will either collapse and cause chaos or prevent the UK from being able to negotiate free trade deals around the world after Brexit.

Mrs. May has instructed officers to go away and revise the ideas. Eurosceptics are braced for her to bring back the plan with only “cosmetic” changes and try to ‘peel off’ Mr. Javid and M.r Williamson from the core group of Brexiteers.

They are also ready for Mrs. May to attempt to bypass the ‘War Cabinet’ altogether and put the issue before the whole Cabinet – where she has more allies.


The “Max Fac” option accepts that there will be greater friction at Britain’s borders with the EU.

But it would aim to minimize the issues using technology and mutual recognition.

Goods could be electronically tracked and pre-cleared by tax authorities on each side.

Shipping firms could also be given ‘trusted trader’ status so they can move goods freely, and only pay tariffs when they are delivered to the destination country.

Companies would also be trusted to ensure they were meeting the relevant UK and EU standards on products.

Senior ministers such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Liam Fox believe this is the only workable option.

But Remain minded Tories such as Mr. Clark insist it will harm trade and cost jobs in the UK.

They also warn that it will require more physical infrastructure on the Irish border – potentially breaching the Good Friday Agreement. It is far from clear whether the government would be able to force anything through parliament that implied a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The EU has dismissed the idea that “Max Fac” could prevent checks on the Irish border as “magical thinking.”