Under current EU Customs Union and Single Market rules, trade from and to the UK is both “free” (meaning exempt from tariffs) and “frictionless” (meaning that goods can be moved between EU Member States as easily as they can between cities in the same country).
As of 1 January 2021, however, the UK will leave both the Customs Union and the Single Market, though special arrangements will still apply in respect of Northern Ireland. In all other respects, the UK trade with the EU on the same terms as any other non-member country, unless there is prior agreement on preferential arrangements under a new trade deal.
But any such deal will still require the introduction of new border checks and controls (for people, goods and animals) involving new forms of documentation and certification which will need to be completed in advance. Depending on what is agreed, certain tariffs and duties may also be payable.
The Government has produced an updated 138 page Border Operating Model setting out how these new arrangements will work. This includes a number of process maps for different product categories. It also provides controls on entry to the UK to be phased in over a six month period from 1 January 2021. But the current expectation is that there will be no staging of EU requirements, which will accordingly apply in full from day one.
Further information is available at Help and Support if your business trades with the EU.
Businesses should not underestimate the extent of these changes, or the potential for delay and disruption, particularly at the outset.
Subject to what may be agreed in the ongoing future relationship talks, most existing EU food law will continue to apply in the UK from 1 January 2021 as retained European law under the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The immediate exceptions relate primarily to border arrangements, though further changes may be enacted by the UK Parliament in due course.
Details of what will change from day one are set out in the following sections.