Still uncertain whether withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK will be reached

If no withdrawal agreement is reached, 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. If no agreement is reached, 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 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.

The following are some of the matters to be observed:

The number of customs formalities increases, which means that businesses must present more documents and submit more information to customs.

Information and instructions on our website:

Brexit and its effects on customs clearance

On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom (the UK) submitted the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU. The two-year period of negotiations which started that day will end on 29 March 2019, and the withdrawal agreement is to enter into force the following day, on 30 March 2019. The withdrawal agreement would contain the provisions on the transition period arrangements concerning e.g. the free movement of goods between the EU and the UK. The transition period would run until 31 December 2020. However, the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement is ongoing, so there is no certainty that an agreement will be reached.

At the moment, there are two scenarios in the withdrawal negotiations between the EU and the UK

1. 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, i.e. a third country, from 30 March 2019, and the free movement of goods between the UK and the EU will end.

2. The withdrawal agreement will be accepted, the UK will withdraw from the EU on 29 March 2019 according to the agreement, 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.

Regardless of whether a withdrawal agreement will be reached or not, the relations between the UK and the EU will change fundamentally, when the UK becomes a third country. A third country cannot have the same rights and benefits as a Member State.

Main consequences of scenario 1 (withdrawal without an agreement or transition period):

  • 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. The declarant can clear the goods through customs or use a forwarding agency. Smooth customs clearance and electronic declarations often require authorisations granted by customs authorities.
  • 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 e.g. in road transport, and difficulties for ports.

Main consequences of scenario 2 (an agreement will be reached and a transition period will be applied):

  • The UK will become 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 agreement also includes an option to extend the transition period once, which has to be done before 1 July 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.

Points to consider

  • 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 not 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.

The negotiations between the EU and the UK of a 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. Calculate estimates of the customs duties and VAT and read instructions on what to do when ordering goods online.

Read more

Information on the European Commission’s website:

Information on The European Council’s website

Information on other authorities’ websites


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