Importing and exporting after Brexit? Here are the new rules that you must follow from 1 January 2021

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Following extensive negotiations, throughout 2020, the UK and EU have finally agreed on a Trade and Co-operation deal governing up to £650bn worth of trade, which will see the UK leave the single market on 31 December. In what can be described as a last-minute scramble, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson released a foreword, saying that the deal is an “ambitious agreement- carefully judged to benefit everyone- it is the first the EU has ever reached allowing zero tariffs and zero quotas”.

The government has released guidance for businesses to get ready for 1 January 2021, after the end of Brexit transition period, as there are a series of new rules coming into place. We will provide an overview of the new rules which impact importing and exporting goods, the Northern Ireland Protocol and the employment of EU citizens after Brexit.


The majority of businesses in the UK will have to make changes from January 1st. The manner of your business’s interactions with the EU will decide what new processes your business should follow.

Importing goods from the EU to Great Britain (GB)

Importing goods from EU states after Brexit will be similar to the process currently used for importing from outside of the EU. Importers will require an EORI number beginning with GB and will need to declare goods that enter Great Britain by making custom declarations.

Whilst businesses can make declarations themselves, the process is complex, as they would need to have access to third-party software to submit them electronically, through Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. Therefore, there will be an option to appoint an agent to assist with the process. 

There is a requirement to submit a full declaration at the time of the goods entering the UK, however, there are circumstances when the simplified declaration procedures could be used. This is where you would make a supplementary declaration and then submit a final declaration later. To see what this means and whether this applies to you, please click here.

Exporting goods to the EU

Exporting goods from the 1st January 2021 from the EU will be similar to exporting to non-EU countries. Companies who export will also require an EORI number beginning with GB. Much like importers, exporters will also be able to take advantage of 3rd party operators to simplify the exporting process.

Goods will widely require export licenses or certificates and/ or will need to follow special rules depending on their type. Most exporters will, however, have access to the Simplified declaration. This route means less information is required upfront and a pre-shipment advice declaration can be used.

Finally, the government advises that exporters check with their trading partners that all required certificates and licenses are organised on the other end.

Northern Ireland protocol 

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland will profit from the trade deals that the UK and EU have agreed and continue to remain a part of the UK’s customs territory. However, to avoid a hard border on the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland will also be covered by the EU’s customs rules. Meaning Northern Ireland will still be in the single market.

There will, however, be customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK to ensure they meet the EU standards. It was principally agreed between the UK and EU on 10 December 2020, that Northern Ireland businesses will benefit from unfettered access to the UK market if the goods meet the qualifying status.

These are goods which are in free circulation and not subject to customs procedure and not in an authorised temporary storage facility, before being moved from Northern Ireland to GB. Goods with a qualifying status will not be subject to any export declarations, custom duties, tariffs and there will be no changes in how they  arrive in Great Britain. However, if the goods are being moved to Great Britain through Ireland, then the above exportation rules will apply (Exporting goods to the EU) as the Republic of Ireland is still part of the EU.

The Northern Ireland Protocol confirmed that any goods being brought into the Northern Ireland from GB will not be subject to taxes, provided they remain in the UK’s customs territory. Any goods at risk of entering the onward EU’s single market will be subject to EU tariffs. For more information on the rules applicable, please click here

 Employing EU citizens after Brexit

After the withdrawal period ends, EU citizens moving to the UK will be required to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, their job is at an appropriate skill level,  they can speak English at the required level, and will need to meet other terms, to score enough points to be awarded a Visa.

If recruiting from the EU companies, businesses should apply to become an approved sponsor, this process can be expected to take in the region of eight weeks. Existing citizens of the EU, EEA, or Switzerland who wish to continue working in the UK will need to apply to the EU settlement scheme by the 30th June 2021. Two types of settlements can be awarded:

  • Settled – For individuals who have lived in the UK continually for five years as of 31st December 2020.
  • Pre-Settled – For individuals living in the UK for less than five continuous years as of 31st December 2020.

British nationals lawfully residing in the EU before December 31st 2020 with have until 30th June 2021 to apply for residence status if one is required.

Final Words

On 28 December 2020,  the EU ambassadors have unanimously approved the provisional trade agreement, with actual voting and ratification taking place in European Parliament in January 2021. The UK parliament will vote on the trade deal on Wednesday (30 December 2020) and is expected to receive a green light too.

From the guidance published for businesses/ employers, it is clear that the new rules from 1 January 2021, are similar to those which apply, at the moment, for trade outside of EU. It is necessary to ensure compliance of all the prescribed rules to prevent any sanctions or disruptions. We have inserted important links above to ensure everyone has access to all the necessary information. 

This article is intended for guidance only and must not be relied upon for specific advice.

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Callum Gill

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Callum is currently on a year long Finance Placement with local government, as part of his degree in BA Economics and Politics with Employment Experience at The University of Sheffield. As part of his placement, he has presented recommendations regarding cost efficiencies to senior managers, persuading them to implement changes. As well as assisting in the provision of financial advice. His role has allowed him to work in a fast-paced professional environment and has forced him to think creatively when addressing issues. Callum believes these experiences outside of law will serve him well in his desired career as a commercial solicitor. After qualifying, he plans to practice as a solicitor advocate, his passion for advocacy stems from his participation in moots and the work experience he has completed with a barrister. Despite his passion for advocacy he has opted for a career as a solicitor due to the prospect of greater client contact; having already enjoyed positive experiences with clients in his role as finance co-ordinator for The University of Sheffield Bhangra society, where he successfully negotiated a sponsorship. Callum has recently been accepted onto the competitive STRIVE Supernova scheme which assists aspiring solicitors through 1-1 coaching, online workshops and legal work experience; he believes this combined with his wide breadth of experience will serve him well in his future career.
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