Brexit: postponement of UK Border Controls

From 1 January 2021 the United Kingdom (UK) operates a full, external border as sovereign nation. While the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (UK-EU TCA) facilitates trade between the UK and the EU on some topics, businesses are nevertheless confronted with barriers to trade (please also see our previous blog). Recognizing the impact of the coronavirus on businesses’ ability to prepare, the UK government originally announced the phased introduction of new border controls in three phases up until 1 July 2021, based on the Border Operating Model (BOM). Phase I came into effect as of 1 January 2021, resulting in businesses facing difficult questions. The start of phase II of the BOM was scheduled for 1 April 2021, with businesses preparing accordingly in order to prevent their (perishable) products from getting stuck or delayed at the UK border. The UK government has now announced plans to delay the introduction of full border controls with the EU for another six months.

In short, phase II of the BOM includes strict border controls for Products of Animal Origin (POAO), certain Animal By-Products (ABP) and High Risk Food and Feed Not of Animal Origin (HRFNAO), introducing the requirement of a phytosanitary or veterinary health certificate. There are about 250 different health documents, each product category having its own certificate. To receive such a certificate registration in the electronic system e-CertNL is required in the Netherlands. Furthermore the UK importer has to make a pre-notification of the shipment in the UK IT-system (IPAFFS). Overall, a considerable administrative challenge.

The UK government, by statement of Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on 11 March, now recognizes that the disruption caused by the coronavirus has lasted longer and has been deeper than originally anticipated. Accordingly, the government has reviewed the original timeframes for introducing border controls. By doing so, the UK government wishes to give strong weight to the disruption which has been caused, and is still being caused, by the coronavirus, and the need to ensure that the economy can recover fully. As a result of the decision, the UK’s start date for full controls is now postponed to 1 January 2022.

Following the announcement, the pre-notification requirements and Export Health Certificate requirements of phase II of the BOM for POAO, ABP, and HRFNAO will not be required until 1 October 2021. In addition, physical checks for these products will not be required until 1 January 2022. After this date, these products must enter the UK through a port where an appropriate Border Control Posts (BCP) is located. Customs import declarations already required on 1 January 2021, will continue to be required, but the option to use the deferred declaration scheme, including submitting supplementary declarations up to six months after the goods have been imported, has been extended to 1 January 2022.

In order to keep the trade going, it will be essential for companies to be able to certify easily, electronically and automatically. For example the POAO being subject to remote documentary checks will entail the examination of official certifications, attestations and other commercial documents that are required to accompany the consignment. This extended timetable gives companies more time to prepare.