On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom (the UK) submitted the notification of its intention to withdraw from the European Union (EU). Since so far the UK has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, the European Council, by its Decision (EU) 2019/584, extended the UK's withdrawal date until 31 October 2019. The European Council also recalled that, under Article 50(3) TEU, the Withdrawal Agreement may enter into force on an earlier date, should the Parties complete their respective ratification procedures before 31 October 2019. Consequently, the withdrawal should take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedures or on 1 November 2019, whichever is the earliest.
Until the new withdrawal date, the UK will remain a Member State with full rights and obligations.
The Withdrawal Agreement would contain the provisions on the transition period arrangements concerning, for example, the free movement of goods between the EU and the UK.
The transition period would run until 31 December 2020.
Brexit and its effects on customs clearance
Two scenarios in the withdrawal negotiations
At the moment, there are two scenarios in the withdrawal negotiations between the EU and the UK. Regardless of whether the Withdrawal Agreement will be reached or not, the relations between the UK and the EU will change fundamentally, when the UK becomes a non-EU country (a third country). A third country cannot have the same rights and benefits as a Member State. A brief overview of both scenarios is set out below.
1. Withdrawal without an agreement and a transition period
If no joint agreement on the transition period and its contents is reached, the UK will withdraw from the Union without a transition period.
Upon withdrawal, the UK will be a non-EU country (a third country), and the free movement of goods between the UK and the EU will end.
- The UK will be a third country, and all goods moving between the UK and the EU will have to be cleared through customs. This means that declarants (i.e. importers and exporters), will be responsible for the customs clearance of the goods.
Declarants may clear the goods through customs themselves or use a customs agency.
Smooth customs clearance and electronic declarations often require different authorizations granted by a customs authority.
- There will be no Intrastat reporting.
- The EU will start to apply its regulation and tariffs at borders with the UK as a third country, including checks and controls for customs, sanitary and phytosanitary standards. Controls at borders would cause significant delays, for example, in road transport, and difficulties for ports.
2. An agreement will be reached and a transition period will be applied
The Withdrawal Agreement will be accepted, the UK will withdraw from the EU, and the transition period will run until 31 December 2020.
During the transition period, the UK will be considered an EU country for the purposes of customs clearance, and the free movement of goods between the EU and the UK will continue until the end of the transition period.
- The UK will become a non-EU country (a third country), but the free movement of goods between the UK and the EU will continue during the transition period until 31 December 2020. The rules, restrictions and other formalities applied to the trade between the EU and third countries will not be applied during the transitional period.
- The obligation for customs clearance of goods moving between the UK and the EU will begin when the transition period is over.
The effects of Brexit on the trade with the UK – who should be prepared?
If no withdrawal agreement is reached, then:
- all businesses, including small and medium-sized businesses, need to be prepared for Brexit. Businesses should, without delay, assess the consequences of Brexit for their operations.
- the customs authorities of the EU Member States have to apply all rules and formalities concerning the trade between the EU and third countries on goods imported from the UK or exported to the UK.
Brexit is a particularly high challenge for businesses that only trade within the Single Market without borders. Businesses that are going to do business with the UK in the future will need to engage in procedures which are mandatory for trade with third countries. The businesses have to inform themselves on these matters and obtain information on what trade with non-EU countries means and on the necessary requirements for bringing products from third countries into the Union Single Market.
In the following, we will draw attention to some of the most important aspects of trade with third countries:
- customs declarations and related authorizations granted by customs authorities
- customs value, commodity codes and potential customs duties
- import and export bans as well as restrictions
- sanitary and phytosanitary controls (more information on the web page "Trade, import and export" of the Estonian Veterinary and Food Board, and on the web page "Phytosanitary control" of the Estonian Agricultural Board)
When planning the export of plants and plant products, it should first be checked whether these are subject to plant health control in the country of destination and therefore require a phytosanitary certificate.
- controls to ensure compliance with legislation
- preferential treatment (how to apply the rules of origin when EU products containing goods of UK origin are taken out of the EU)
- the scheme of tariffs
- the Market Access Database (MADB) managed by the European Commission for companies exporting from the EU about import conditions in third country markets
The number of customs formalities increases, which means that businesses must present more documents and submit more information to customs authorities.
The United Kingdom (UK, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is, for the time being, one of the Member States of the European Union (EU). ‘UK’ is not an official country code for customs declarations.
England, Scotland and Wales constitute Great Britain (GB). GB is part of the UK. ‘GB’ is the official country code for customs declarations.
Northern Ireland is part of the UK but not of Great Britain. Northern Ireland does not have a separate country code, so ‘GB’ is the official country code for customs declaration.
Travellers should be prepared that when travelling to the UK, the same restrictions, provisions and value limits on duty free imports will apply as when arriving from a non-EU country. Read more in our instructions for travellers: "Travelling from non-EU countries".
The negotiations between the EU and the UK of the Withdrawal Agreement are ongoing. When ordering goods online, one should be prepared that orders made from the UK will be cleared through customs and taxed, like online purchases from non-EU countries, such as China or the USA. More detailed information can be found from instructions for declaring goods purchased online: "Consignments from outside the European Union".
- Web page "Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU" of the European Commission
- Brexit preparedness notices on the website of the European Commission
- About importing and exporting on the website of the Government of the UK
- How the taxation rules will change after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the European Economic Area »
- Guidance note on Customs matters in case of no deal
- Brexit transit business scenarios (PDF)
- Brexit export business scenarios (PDF)
- Guidance note on Excise for ongoing movements of goods
- Website „Get ready for Brexit" on transporting cargo via the Dutch ports