Last reviewed 30 January 2020

Within the EU most goods may move freely between and through countries without any formalities and for that reason are known as “despatches” rather than imports or exports. As of 2300 GMT on 31 January 2020 the UK is no longer a member of the EU but for an Implementation Period (IP) extending until 31 December 2020 all pre-existing arrangements, including those relating to the customs union and single market, will continue to apply so there will be no immediate change. However, if new arrangements are not agreed before 31 December 2020 and the IP is not extended then such freedom of movement will no longer apply and some formalities will be necessary at the interface between the UK and the EU.

In this article Richard Smith identifies what carriers by road will need to know in order to continue operating to and from Europe via cross-channel roll-on/roll-off services after 31 December 2020 if that is the case.

The Need for Customs Procedures

The EU single market and customs union creates an effective single territory covering all 27 members. This means there are no trade or customs barriers between them and at the same time the customs union erects a protective wall against competition for EU members from cheaper imports from outside the bloc. This means that import/export procedures will have to be followed and certain documentation provided.

Vehicle and driver documentation

In addition to all the documents already required (see the Factsheet Documents to be carried on International Operations):

  • the driver must have a passport less than 10 years old with more than six months left to run and an international driving permit of the type valid for the particular country or countries

  • for the vehicle there must be an insurance green card (plus another for any trailer), a GB plate and an ECMT permit, together with the relevant certificates of compliance and roadworthiness.

For further details, see the factsheet: Operating in the EU after Brexit.

Vehicle loads

When it comes to the load the situation is a little more complex, not least because most of the necessary actions must be taken, and the documentation provided, by the consignor of the goods and not the carrier. Nevertheless, it is the carrier’s vehicle and driver that will be delayed so it is important for the driver and haulier to understand what is required.

For the carrier, there is an important distinction between whether the goods being carried are regarded as being declared at the port of embarkation or disembarkation as exports/imports or are carried under transit arrangements.

The first case involves the consignor of the goods making import and export customs declarations before the goods arrive at the port(s).

In the second case any customs checks and declarations can be made after the goods have arrived at their destination.

Some goods, such as animals, animal products, plant materials and those subject to export controls require special procedures; the following outline is for general goods only.

Import to UK from EU – general goods

  • The carrier must first receive confirmation from the trader that EU export formalities have been met and obtain copies of any necessary documents such as an export declaration or carnet and a CMR road consignment note (CMR note).

  • The importer of the goods must have provided the carrier with his Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number or a Movement Reference Number (MRN) – also known as a master reference number or entry number.

  • The EORI number is permanently issued by HMRC and will start with the letters GB, followed by 12 digits; the MRN is generated when a trader makes a customs import declaration to HMRC using the online system and that must be before the goods arrive in the country. He will need to know the registration number of the vehicle being used.

  • All of this information should be obtained before loading the goods and if any further checks are necessary the driver will be given instructions to go to an appropriate point for inspection. On arrival at the port, the driver should present the necessary documents at EU customs and check-in for boarding.

  • When the loaded vehicle arrives at UK customs the authorities will accept the EORI number or MRN as evidence that a customs declaration is in place but there should be no need for the vehicle to stop as Border Force will only stop trucks on risk-based intelligence.

  • As soon as possible after leaving the port the driver must inform his or her company of arrival so that the importer can complete the HMRC declaration.

Export from UK to EU – general goods

  • Similar preparation is required before loading goods to be exported to the EU.

  • There must be confirmation that the importer has met all EU import formalities and the required reference numbers and documentation for EU customs have been provided.

  • The carrier must provide the exporter with the vehicle registration number.

  • The exporter in the UK must also have completed the necessary customs declarations and provided a CMR note.

  • It is vital that the carrier ensures that Permission to Proceed (P2P) has been granted by HMRC before collecting the goods. If it has then the driver can collect the goods and proceed directly to the UK port of departure.

  • If P2P has not been granted because a physical check of the goods is required, the goods can still be loaded but the driver must take them to a Designated Export Place (DEP) or an approved inland location where they will be checked by HMRC before P2P is given. The driver can then proceed to the port.

  • If P2P has not been not granted because documentary checks are required, the driver must not collect the goods but must wait until the exporter has provided the necessary documentary checks to the National Clearance Hub and received further instructions.

  • At the port there should be no need to stop, although Border Force may stop some trucks on an intelligence-led basis, and the driver should check-in for boarding. The MRN will be scanned and matched with the vehicle registration number.

  • On arrival at the French “smart border”, the driver should look out for green or orange lane instructions and comply.

  • For other EU ports the driver may be required to present the goods for EU import declaration.

Movement Under Transit Arrangements

Goods moved under transit arrangements will avoid the necessity of making separate import and export declarations at each border crossing. Instead the goods, accompanied by the relevant certification, move without any checks and all the necessary formalities are carried out at the destination. Three different systems are available.

Transports International Routiers (TIR)

A long-standing UN ECE convention that covers all EU countries, TIR avoids the use of national transit procedures for countries through which the goods pass by the use of customs-sealed containers or vehicles. A standard import declaration must still be made but no checks, other than of the TIR carnet, are made en route with final clearance carried out when the seal is broken at the destination.

To use TIR the carrier must have vehicles and containers that comply with the requirements, have been inspected by DVSA and certified. A blue and white TIR plate must be affixed. Further details are in the topic Operating Outside the EU.

ATA Carnets

The ATA carnet is used in place of normal customs documentation when goods are being temporarily exported from the UK but will return at some stage. It can also be used to import certain goods temporarily into the UK. It will be useful for transporting goods used for displays, exhibitions and other events such as Formula 1 racing but cannot be used to cover normal import/export trade goods.

The Common Transit Convention (CTC)

Most goods of EU origin moving within the EU do so under a procedure known as Union Transit (UT). Common Transit (CT) extends the provisions of Union Transit to a wider range of countries besides the EU that are signatories to the Common Transit Convention, and this will include the UK once it has left the EU. Like TIR, movements under CTC eliminate the need for customs declarations at successive border crossings, with all procedures carried out away from the border. Unlike TIR, though it does not require the use of specially certified containers and vehicles. CT, therefore, provides a way to move goods between the UK and the EU (including across the Irish land border) without the need for customs checks at the borders.

Although the system is mainly paperless it does require a document known as a Transit Accompanying Document (TAD) which must accompany the goods and be presented at any transit office and at the destination. The TAD carries the MRN in both number and barcode form and the latter allows faster processing by barcode reader at transit offices. In a multi-item consignment, the TAD may be accompanied by what is effectively an electronic load manifest called a list of items (LoI).

  • The consignor of the goods makes a customs declaration through the Europe-wide Electronic Transit System (ETS), previously known as the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS) and takes out a guarantee that will cover VAT and customs duties while the goods are in transit.

  • If the trader is an Authorised Consignor, after the movement is released to the Transit procedure the driver will be given a TAD and can then (and only then) proceed directly to the port of departure.

  • If the trader is not an Authorised Consignor, the driver will be given a Local Reference Number (LRN) and must then present the LRN and the goods at a nominated Office of Departure. Release of the goods to the system will be completed there and the TAD will be issued, allowing the driver to proceed to the port.

  • On arrival, the TAD must be presented to the customs authorities in line with their procedures.

  • If the destination is the premises of an Authorised Consignee, the driver may proceed straight there and present the TAD to allow the transit procedure to be closed. Otherwise he/she must go via an Office of Destination for that to be done.

It is recommended that the TAD is printed on green paper to enable drivers to recognise it.

Government guidance

  • The UK government has produced a pocket guide explaining these processes/ operators

  • Drivers should make sure that they are familiar with all the requirements before operating to and from Europe if the UK leaves the EU

  • If all the required declarations are made there should, in most cases, be no need for any additional delays at border crossings.