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Government promises light touch for post-Brexit imports – updated

[ June 12, 2020   //   ]

The UK government will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to import customs checks from the EU after Brexit next year. There will be a temporary light-touch regime at ports such as Dover, regardless of whether a deal is done with the EU or not.

According to a statement by the Cabinet Office, the new border controls will be introduced in three stages between January and 1 July 2021. From January 2021, importers of ‘standard’ goods, such as clothes or electronics, will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records, and will have up to six months to complete declarations. While duties will eventually need to be paid on all imports, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made. Businesses will also need to consider how they account for VAT on imported goods.

Last year, ahead of the earlier 29 March 2019 deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU, HMRC revealed plans for pre-lodged non-inventory linked declarations for goods arriving at Dover or the Channel Tunnel, ahead of the ferry or shuttle arrival. On arrival, the trader would ‘arrive’ the declaration and, only if the goods are selected for examination, would the vehicle have to report to Customs. Otherwise, the driver would be free to continue to destination.

Under the present plans, the Cabinet Office said there will be only be checks on controlled goods like alcohol and tobacco, along with physical checks at the point of destination or other approved premises on all high risk live animals and plants.

From April 2021, all products of animal origin – for example meat, pet food, honey, milk or egg products – and all regulated plants and plant products will also require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.

From July 2021, traders moving all goods will have to make declarations at the point of import and pay relevant tariffs. Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) commodities there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples: checks for animals, plants and their products will then take place at GB Border Control Posts.

There will also be a new £50 million support package to boost the capacity of customs brokers, freight forwarders and express parcel operators ahead of the new processes taking effect in July 2021. It will include recruitment, training and supplying IT equipment to help handle customs declarations. Rules will also be changed to remove barriers for intermediaries taking on new clients.

The Government says it has now provided £84m to grow the customs intermediary sector, following the earlier tranche of training and IT grants this year.

It has also committed to building new border facilities in Great Britain for carrying out required checks, such as customs compliance, transit, and Sanitary and SPS checks, as well as providing targeted support to ports to build new infrastructure. Where there is no space at ports, it will build new inland sites and it is consulting with ports across the UK to agree what infrastructure is required.

Director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), Robert Keen, however questioned whether the phased transition would give enough time to make preparations to facilitate the revised arrangements.

He said: “Even with a phased transition for the new border processes, and the promise of an additional £50 million investment in Customs IT infrastructure and training, we remain concerned on a number of issues, including the recruitment of staff qualified and experienced in Customs procedures, and the lack of available time to train newcomers, which is not a five-minute job.
“In effect we have a plan, but as always, the devil will be in the detail. For instance, how long will it take to build the infrastructure that the government recognises will be required?
“And it remains to be seen whether the EU will reciprocate with a similar phased transition for UK exports to the EU.”

Chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, Tim Morris, said “Although there’s a great deal of further detail and work required the UK Major Ports Group cautiously welcomes a pragmatic approach to the imposition of border controls with the EU. This reflects the reality that more time is required to increase the readiness of UK businesses and put in place border processes and some infrastructure.” But he added that time remains short and businesses need to prepare rapidly. Less than 20% of the UK’s trade with the EU moves via trucks with drivers, so its vital than any Government support covers all transport modes, such as containers and unaccompanied trailers, and locations. Of course, there are two sides to a border and knowing the EU’s borders requirements will be crucial.”

Chief executive of the British Ports Association, Richard Ballantyne also described the government’s announcement as welcome news, saying: “Delays and additional costs for freight operators get passed on and ultimately this sensible and pragmatic decision will mean British manufacturers and consumers are not faced with the increased expenditure, at least until a more formal border operating model is agreed by industry and Government.

“Whilst the context of the Coronavirus pandemic means we have lost some time to prepare, the timescales were already challenging so a period of pragmatism will be helpful. There do remain questions about how Northern Irish traffic will be managed.”

 

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