Brexit: full controls on goods entering UK will not apply until July 2021
Three-phased plan for Brexit border checks welcomed as UK formally rejects extension to transition period
The Freight Transport Association, which had lobbied for the delays, said it was ‘extremely grateful’.Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Full border controls on goods entering the UK will not apply until July next year the government has announced, as it formally notified the EU it does not want an extension to the transition period. The announcement of a three-phased plan for Brexit border checks was welcomed by industry leaders but represents the most dramatic change to international trading since 1993 when the single market was introduced. It comes as the chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, told the vice-president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, of the UK’s plans to press ahead with exiting the customs union and the single market on 31 December.
“We have informed the EU today that we will not extend the transition period. The moment for extension has now passed. At the end of this year we will control our own laws and borders which is why we are able to take the sovereign decision to introduce arrangements in a way that gives businesses impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.
“Today’s announcement is an important step towards getting the country ready for the end of the transition period,” said Gove. The border delays have been instigated as a “temporary and pragmatic” response to accommodate the current strains on businesses as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Further delays of full controls could be put in place if there is a second wave of coronavirus, sources have indicated.
The Freight Transport Association, which had lobbied for the delays, said it was “extremely grateful” the government had listened to its concerns. The Road Haulage Association, a vocal critic of the government’s hardline approach to Brexit in the past, also welcomed the announcement. The government plan involves a phased implementation of controls in January, April and July next year.
In the first stage, full customs checks and tariffs will be imposed on “controlled” goods such as alcohol and tobacco. But importers of “standard” goods ranging from clothes to electronics will have up to six months to complete customs declarations and to pay tariffs, if any apply. However, they will need to keep sufficient records of imports and make preparations for VAT payments.
There will also be checks on live animals and high-risk plants. In April, the health checks will be extended to all products of animal origin including, meat, pet food, honey, milk or egg products with pre-notification of imports required by the authorities. From July all goods will be subjected to customs declarations at the point of importation and relevant tariffs, which will be determined by the outcome of the current Brexit talks on the free-trade agreement.
Business leaders have long warned that new checks will mean major disruption to the supply chain and those who trade in fresh and chilled food still face checks on the EU side in key ports including Calais, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Dublin. Brussels officials have said the EU has no intention of relaxing checks on UK goods entering the bloc. “The UK has stated on several occasions it wants to take back the control and I would say that it is up to the UK how they do it,” Sefcovic told reporters after his meeting with Gove. The new trading regime will involve fresh infrastructure at ports and airports with a GBP50m support package to get an estimated 50,000 customs agents, freight forwards and other experts in place for 2021.
Border inspection posts will also have to be built, something neighbouring countries including France and Ireland put in place last year in preparation for no-deal planning. Five further rounds of accelerated face to face meetings have now been scheduled for July and August with the hope of securing an outline deal by September in further talks. Special arrangements for checks on goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland remain a major issue for the EU.
They kick in whether or not there is a trade deal and the EU is concerned the UK will try to wriggle out of some of its obligations on custom controls. Sefcovic welcomed the UK government’s recent command paper on the the issue, but said it did not provide “sufficient operational details and we need to move from aspiration to operation and fast”. The two sides also remain at odds over whether the EU can open a Belfast office to oversee the Irish Sea border.
While the Brexit treaty allows EU officials to be present during checks at Northern Irish ports and airports, the UK is refusing to allow Brussels a permanent base in Belfast. “We have to be very pragmatic about what we see as a technical presence of EU officials to make sure that all checks and controls are done properly in full accordance with EU law,” Sefcovic said. Businesses in Northern Ireland recently called for a similar six-month delay to the checks that will apply on goods traded across the Irish Sea and expressed disappointment the UK had no plans for similar approach in the region.
A delay on the protocol would require EU approval but sources say there is no sign of any political will either in London or Brussels to make it easy for already strained businesses in the region. Sources say there has been little to no engagement with HMRC reaching out for information after an “eight-month silence”. They had their first meeting with London officials last week and said it “fell flat as a pancake”.
“Northern Ireland is different but it looks it’s fallen off the radar as usual. The only way things work is if there is political will and this meeting was just a tick-box exercise”. The two sides are preparing for an intense summer of talks on the future relationship, with six weeks of negotiating rounds scheduled over July and August.
On Monday, Boris Johnson meets a trio of EU leaders, the heads of the European commission, council and parliament, although expectations of a political reset emerging are low.
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