The United Kingdom (UK) left the European Union in the so‑called Brexit on January 31, 2020, at 24:00 CET. Its exit is governed by the Withdrawal Agreement, signed on January 24, 2020, under which the UK will remain as part of the EU single market and customs union for a transitional period until December 31, 2020.
What the post‑transition period will bring is currently uncertain. The UK and the EU are currently negotiating a free trade agreement. Whether such an agreement will be signed at the end of the negotiations or whether a so‑called “hard Brexit” will take place remains to be seen.
The consequence of a “hard Brexit” is that from January 1, 2021 forward, the UK would be treated as a third country relative to the EU. Since the border between the UK and the EU would then be an EU external border, trade in goods between the EU and the UK would have to be controlled.
The UK has adopted a three‑stage transitional regime for the new border controls on imports (so‑called Border Operating Model, last updated on October 8, 2020). This step‑by‑step plan is intended to take into account that companies cannot change their processes overnight:
Import level 1 (from January 2021):
For goods subject to export controls (e.g., goods for which import restrictions apply, and goods subject to excise duties), complete customs declarations must be made from January 1, 2021 onwards.
For all other goods, a customs declaration is not immediately required if the trader records the import into the UK in his accounts. In that case, it is sufficient for the trader to file a supplementary customs declaration within six months of import (delayed declarations).
In any event, the trader shall be free to submit a full customs declaration for non‑controlled goods at the time of entry into the UK.
Import level 2 (from April 2021):
For goods subject to health safety inspections (e.g., animal and plant products), additional import requirements and control procedures will apply from April 2021 onwards.
Import level 3 (from July 2021):
Full customs declarations must be made for imports of any goods presented to or entering the UK.