Please note that arrangements relating to Northern Ireland remain under discussion between the UK and the EU. They are technically subject to legal proceedings which have currently been paused, resulting in an effective ‘standstill’ in respect of the present situation, including existing ‘grace periods’ and temporary derogations.
The UK Government has stressed that it is important for businesses to continue to comply with the measures currently in force.
Trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is regulated separately from trade between Great Britain and the rest of the EU under the terms of a Protocol to the main UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement. It does not form part of the subsequent Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
The Protocol provides for Northern Ireland to have continued access to the EU Single Market and Customs Union, while remaining in the UK’s customs territory.
This requires the operation of special rules on the movement of goods from GB to NI in order to remove the need for a so-called ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. In effect, goods moved from GB to NI will in future be regarded as entering the EU and subject to the generality of requirements applicable to all third country trade. Goods moved from NI to GB will, however, have unfettered access to the rest of the UK market.
Details of these rules were initially decided in further negotiations by a UK-EU Joint Committee set up under the Protocol and along the lines of an approach set out in a first Command Paper published by the UK Government in May 2020. As explained in a second Command Paper following the conclusion of those negotiations in December 2020, these included a number of ‘easements’ and ‘grace periods’ to allow for a period of adjustment after the formal entry into force of the Protocol on 1 January 2021.
In March 2021, shortly before the scheduled expiry of these transitional arrangements, the UK Government made a unilateral decision to extend them until 30 September 2021, giving rise to the initiation of a legal challenge by the EU. Following a further series of talks, the UK Government published a third Command Paper at the beginning of July, setting out proposals for a new way forward. The Government has since made a further written statement to Parliament on 6 September, announcing that it would be continuing to operate the Protocol on the current basis until further notice, unilaterally giving effect to a request to the EU for an additional ‘standstill’ period to allow for talks to continue without the pressure of a fixed deadline.
In its response the European Commission took note of the UK announcement while reserving its legal position. But it did agree to continue efforts to find solutions within the terms of the existing texts, explicitly ruling out any formal renegotiation of the Protocol itself.
In practical terms this means all the existing arrangements for sending goods from GB to NI will remain unchanged after 30 September 2021 and that there will be further period of ‘reasonable notice’ for businesses and citizens to prepare for whatever new arrangements might subsequently be agreed.
The main requirements are set out in Defra’s GB to NI Trader Showcase. This covers temporary arrangements for facilitating sales of goods to final consumers through retail channels (see also Moving Goods into out of or through Northern Ireland from 1/1/21) as well as a UK Trader Scheme allowing businesses to register for exemption from potential tariff liabilities, for example in respect of goods not meeting the Rules of Origin requirements in the main Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
A new Trader Support Service has also been put in place to provide assistance to companies in meeting these new requirements, particularly in respect of customs declarations.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for Northern Ireland (Daera) has also issued a Compliance Protocol in relation to SPS and other regulatory checks.