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Brexit is coming: Here's what will change after 31 December 2020

British driving licences made invalid, a customs-check comeback, and what to do with the UK landbridge.

A vessel leaves Dublin Port. March 2019.
A vessel leaves Dublin Port. March 2019.
Image: PA

BREXIT OFFICIALLY TOOK place on 31 January this year. But at 11pm on 31 December, Brexit in practice will kick in. 

This will mean the UK leaves the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market, instigating a chain reaction that will hit Ireland quite hard. 

The whole point of the transition period was to give businesses time to prepare for Brexit, but of course, no one knew that most of the past 11 months would also coincide with a pandemic that would divert attention and resources elsewhere.

Regardless of any outcome of the trade talks – there will be checks and controls between the UK and Ireland from 1 January 2021. 

The Government has concerns that businesses may not be prepared for these changes – considering that they have readjusted their focus on adjusting for Covid restrictions. 

So let’s have a look at what will change after 31 December – this article is based on the Revenue’s webinar videos on Brexit, background briefings on government preparedness, business webinars, and openly available information.

First: What is under the trade deal

brexit Source: Kirsty O'Connor via PA Images

Since there is a narrow timeline for a free trade deal (FTA) to be concluded between the EU and UK by 31 December, the Irish government has been preparing for two Brexit scenarios: a limited FTA, or no trade deal. 

Until a deal is done, there will be a certain amount still left unknown – but there are a few things that we have known for some time.

The main change that we do know is that the UK will be leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market, which will have a huge impact on people and business owners in Ireland who send goods to, from or through the UK.

This will mean that the EU – and by extension, Ireland – will treat Great Britain as a ‘third country’ for the purposes of trade.

Northern Ireland and the Protocol

uk-belfast-brexit-deal A ship arrives into the Port of Belfast. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

For Northern Ireland, the arrangements are even more confused. Northern Ireland is a part of the UK’s customs arrangement – but is also ‘aligned’ to the EU’s Customs Union and remains in the EU’s Single Market.

In practice, this means that Northern Ireland follows EU customs rules and imposes EU duties in some cases, and carries out SPS checks on agri-foods, and regulatory checks on goods going from GB to NI. Northern Ireland will also follow EU Vat rules in relation to goods, but not services.

This will mean import declarations and entry summary declarations are required for goods going from GB to NI, with “light-touch” infrastructure between the two regions to carry out physical customs checks.

This applies whether there is a trade deal or not, as it’s contained in the Withdrawal Agreement – but the arrangement would still need to be ratified by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

A special committee is working out how exactly the Northern Ireland protocol will be implemented.

Customs declarations will not be needed for trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland – again, because of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the ratified Withdrawal Agreement. 

1. Customs is changing

brexit Shipping containers at Dublin Port. Source: Niall Carson

Regardless of a trade deal, there will be additional customs barriers on goods from Great Britain or going to Great Britain from 1 January 2020.

Exporters will need to declare goods being transported by hauliers between Ireland and Great Britain with a custom declaration form. Additional costs are associated with this.

Batch letters have been sent out to businesses by Revenue asking businesses to take action to prepare for these customs changes.

They have identified 14,000 businesses that would be significantly impacted by Brexit and will carry our follow up calls with those businesses. 

The first step is registering for an EORI number, which 90% of Irish exporters have done (those that trade in services do not need this).

Revenue has identified 4,000 businesses with activity worth over €50,000 and haven’t registered with EORI yet that they will follow up on. 

The second step is that businesses will need to decide who is going to carry out custom declarations duties on behalf of a company, and if they have the required software to make the necessary declarations. 

As part of this, some businesses may need customs agents; this will be either on a contract basis or in-house.

This was a more vital role before Ireland and the UK entered the precursor to the European Union in 1973, but was phased out due to the free movement of goods clause – one of the four freedoms that underpins the Single Market.

The Government is providing a number of supports to businesses to help prepare for additional customs measures – this includes offering supports for customs training.

2. Pre-booking declarations for trucks on ferries

brexit Leo Varadkar and Helen McEntee with port and customs officials to show new physical infrastructure at Dublin Port. 8 September 2019. Source: PA Images

British politicians have claimed over the years that Brexit-related checks could be streamlined using technology – and to a certain extent, they were right. 

Ireland’s Revenue has introduced a new IT system for roll-on roll-off ferry deliveries.

There are three elements to this: one is the pre-boarding declaration.

A business exporting from Great Britain to Ireland must send a pre-boarding declaration of what the truck contains to Revenue, upon booking or checking-in with the ferry company. 

The truck will not be able to board without this pre-boarding declaration – the same process will apply for goods being exported on trucks and by ferry from Ireland.

This process gives Revenue time to approve customs declarations as quickly as possible, and delegating as many trucks to the fasttrack ‘green lanes’ planned for ports.

Thirty minutes before docking in Dublin Port or Rosslare Port, truck drivers will be able to check online to see whether they can take the ‘green lane’ exit from the port, or whether they will have to go through customs checks. 

It’s understood that Dublin and Rosslare ports will be ready for these processes by the end of the year, and it’s expected that staff and IT systems will also be ready.

This measure has been brought in to allow for the just-in-time food supply chain to continue as normally as possible – which had been a serious concern for the food industry. 

3. The UK landbridge

migrant-channel-crossing-incidents Lorries queue on the A2 near Dover in Kent after a police operation in the port resulted in traffic congestion. Source: PA Images

For trucks that are using the UK landbridge to deliver goods to and from continental Europe, they will need to declare their transit. 

Concerns have been raised about long delays through the landbridge because of customs checks that would be needed between the UK and France. 

Work is still ongoing to try to find a route through the UK landbridge so that Ireland and EU member states can trade goods with one another through the UK. 

Recently, this included a plan from the UK government that a ‘passport’, or ‘access permit’, would be needed for trucks to gain access to Kent – the English county where the port of Dover is – in order to offset long delays that are expected.

This was confirmed by senior British Cabinet minister Michael Gove.

4. There will be checks – mostly on agri-foods

New sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks will be carried out on goods being traded between Great Britain and Ireland regardless of whether there is a free trade agreement or not. 

Any business, regardless of size, which moves animals, plants, food products of animal origin and plant origin from, to or through Great Britain will be subject to new regulatory requirements.

Documentary identity and physical checks will form part of these new regulations.  

They will add costs and cause delays compared to the current supply chain, which could have a huge impact on Irish businesses, as beef and dairy products are a huge export product for Ireland. 

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If you do import or export animal or plant products from Great Britain, you must register as an importer/exporter with the Department of Agriculture as soon as possible (the email to do so is here: BrexitRegistration@agriculture.gov.ie). 

Irish importers of GB animal or plant goods may also need to register for the European Commission system TRACES, which allows for the electronic lodgement of documentation required for the import of certain consignments from third countries. 

For the UK’s import control regime, particularly what SPS regime will apply for Northern Ireland, it’s a bit more complicated. 

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, they announced that they would ‘phase in’ the additional post-Brexit checks and forms to help give businesses more time to prepare.  Because of this, it’s still not immediately clear to Irish authorities what the UK’s plans are (clarifications were due in September).

5. Costs and changes for consumers

001 Smyths Queues Source: Sasko Lazarov

There will be additional costs to buying products from the UK after 31 December.

If an item costs between €22-150, VAT and import costs will apply to it, while products from the UK that cost over €150 will have VAT, import and customs-duty costs. 

Different rates of depend on the product that you are buying. There will be no additional costs for sending letters to the UK

You will need to pay these costs for parcels in a similar way that US goods ordered to Ireland are paid for – you may need to visit a post office to pay the charge before it is delivered to your house. 

If there is no trade deal between the EU and UK, there could also be tariffs (or additional costs) on items you buy from the UK.

On agri-foods in particular, tariffs are quite high. 

The CCPC has warned before that the consumer rights afforded to consumers in Ireland who buy products from the UK would be different after 31 December. 

Those resident in Ireland with British driving licences are also being asked to swap them for an Irish driving licence, as the UK ones will be invalid here after 31 December.

If there is something we left out, feel free to email it to us for consideration of its inclusion: grainne@thejournal.ie. 

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