On 11 March, Michael Gove, minister for the Cabinet Office, announced a further six-month extension on import declarations completions and border checks until 1 January 2022. This acknowledges the struggles of UK and EU businesses to come to terms with the new, post-Brexit customs paperwork and the effects of the latest COVID lockdown. This was reflected in news from the ONS on 12 March that UK imports from the EU dropped 28.8 per cent, the largest declines since comparable records began in 1997.
The changes only affect imports into Great Britain from the EU and rest of the world; imports into Northern Ireland from the EU still fall under the Northern Ireland Protocol rules.
Infringement of WTO rules?
The immediate question may be whether lowering of import controls transgresses World Trade Organisation rules, which the UK is now signed-up to as an individual member. There may be some argument in this as a unilateral measure to boost trade. However, since it applies to imports from across the world, it has no discriminatory element. The measures are also clearly meant as temporary, and recognise a regime in transition, so should be permitted. And, more importantly, no country is likely to try and challenge this dropping of import border controls since it gives their exporters to the UK a considerable advantage.
New 2022 customs declarations and border checks deadlines
Under the UK’s Border Operating Model, which sets the rules for customs procedures following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, importers of goods into the UK could defer their import declarations until 1 July 2021. This included a phased introduction of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (‘SPS’) checks on animal and plant-based goods.
The revised timeframes, changing phases 2 and 3 of the Border Operating Model, announced last week are as follows:
|Customs procedures||Previous date||Revised date|
|Prenotification on goods of animal origin and other high-risk foods||1 April 2021||1 October 2021|
|Deferred import customs declarations||1 July 2021||1 January 2022|
|Safety and Security Declarations||1 July 2021||1 January 2022|
|Sanitary and Phytosanitary border checks and pre-notifications on a range of animal and non-animal produce||1 July 2021||1 January 2022|
|Border checks live animals and low risk plants and plant products.||1 July 2021||1 March 2022|
Controlled goods are excepted from the above timetable. Full customs declarations are required, and full checks apply today.