Last reviewed 18 November 2020

With only weeks to go before the transition period concludes, the trade negotiations between the UK and EU remain unresolved. The likeliest outcome is that a basic deal will be agreed that leaves the way open for future talks.

There is still a real possibility that there will be no deal at all but, for several weeks now, both sides have been warning that, even if some form of agreement is reached, it will still mean restrictions being imposed on the formerly free movement of goods.

Businesses and trade organisations have been urging the Government to give them a clear picture of what this will mean in reality and what they will be expected to do when the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

The most detailed answer came in the form of The Border with the European Union: Importing and Exporting Goods, a 138-page guide which outlines the processes for moving goods between Great Britain and the EU from 1 January 2021 onwards.

Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf, the guide does not cover the position with regard to Northern Ireland which to some extent will remain subject to EU customs legislation and will be covered in a separate publication.

The Government also makes clear that, to afford industry extra time to make the necessary arrangements, it has taken the decision to introduce the new border controls in three stages up until 1 July 2021.

Stage 1

From January 2021: Traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records of imported goods. Traders will also need to consider how they account for and pay VAT on imported goods although they will have up to six months to complete customs declarations. The goods vehicle movement service (GVMS) will be introduced from January only for transit movements.

The guide also gives details of the Kent Access Permit (KAP) which heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers will need to access key roads in Kent (such as the M20) and the “Check an HGV is Ready to Cross the Border Service”, an online tool for the Roll-on Roll-off (RoRo) freight industry.

Stage 2

From April 2021: All products of animal origin (POAO) — eg meat, honey, milk or egg products — and all regulated plants and plant products will require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation. Any physical checks will continue to be conducted at the point of destination until July 2021.

Stage 3

From July 2021: Traders moving any goods will have to make full customs declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs. Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for commodities subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls, these will have to be presented to border control posts and there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples.

The GVMS will be in place for all imports, exports and transit movements at border locations which have chosen to introduce it.

The Core Model

The principles of the Core Model will apply to all goods movements between Great Britain and the EU, regardless of the mode of transport of the movement. However, there may be some differences in processes by location.

The primary variation in process will be the requirement for pre-lodgement of customs declarations at some ports and not others (which will provide temporary storage facilities). This, the guide explains, is a commercial decision that border locations will take in due course.

Note that, for the first and last stages, the guide sets out the core model for importing goods, together with additional requirements with regard to specific goods imports such as food.

The new process for exporting to be followed for all goods is set out, again with a section devoted to additional requirements for specific goods exports.

Finally, the guide includes three Annexes:

  • A — EU export requirements

  • B — EU import requirements including EU ports/terminal requirements

  • C — the Controlled Goods List, including drug precursor chemicals, toxic chemicals, controlled drugs and excise goods.

Next steps

Time is short, even with the extra six months that the Government has allowed itself, and traders need to take certain actions as soon as possible and certainly without waiting to see the outcome of the trade talks.

As the guide makes clear: “The UK’s negotiations with the European Union will have absolutely no impact on the urgent need to take these actions”.

  • EORI: traders must, if they have not done so after previous warnings, apply for a GB EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number as this is required for all businesses moving goods into or out of Great Britain, including those deferring their import declarations.

  • Customs intermediary: “Customs declarations are complicated”, the Government notes so it is reminding traders that the majority of businesses that currently trade outside the EU use an intermediary for this work, such as customs agents, fast parcel operators (FPOs), freight forwarders or brokers, to help them meet requirements.

  • Duty Deferment Account: Traders who import goods regularly may benefit from having a duty deferment account (DDA). This enables customs charges including customs duty, excise duty, and import VAT to be paid once a month through Direct Debit instead of being paid on individual consignments.

  • VAT on imported goods: VAT registered traders will be able to account for import VAT on their VAT return by using postponed VAT accounting from 1 January 2021. Unless they are eligible to defer their supplementary declarations, they will not be compelled to use postponed VAT accounting.

  • International Driving Permits: Hauliers need to ensure their drivers have the correct documentation, for example an international driving permit (IDP) or an additional licence may be required to drive in some countries. More information will be provided by the Government as the requirements are clarified.

  • Commercial arrangements: Individual commercial contracts and arrangements may alter the default legal responsibilities and requirements. Contractual obligations for international commercial transactions are outlined in the Incoterms rules, which are administered by the International Chamber of Commerce. These are an important consideration for traders when moving goods internationally, and should, the Government urges, be considered and understood alongside the information in its guide.