The UK Government has reportedly dropped its plans to introduce full border checks with the EU once the Brexit transition period expires at the end of this year.
Instead of full checks, the UK Government will now introduce a temporary regime with lighter customs checks for goods imported from the EU at UK ports such as Dover, whether or not the UK secures a free trade agreement with the EU. There is no indication at this stage that the EU will offer reciprocal customs treatment to British goods crossing the border. Moreover, the fact that the EU has already invested in new port infrastructure and personnel in both France and the Netherlands means it is unlikely that the EU will fully mirror this soft border.
Full details of the light-touch regime are expected to be announced soon, however it is anticipated that the approach would be closer to the ‘no-deal’ arrangements set out in September 2019 that prioritised movement of goods over border controls. In particular, it is expected that only controlled goods will face immediate checks; that importers will be able to delay the need for customs declarations and postpone customs duty payments for certain goods; and that VAT payments can also be deferred. It is anticipated that checks on safety and security declarations will also be temporarily waived.
The Government had previously announced in February that goods coming from the EU would face the full range of customs and regulatory checks. This policy reversal comes as the UK Government acknowledges that UK businesses cannot be expected to face the dual burden of COVID-19 and significant disruption at the UK/EU border when the current Brexit transition period ends.
The temporary measures are expected to last for six months, expiring at the end of June 2021.