Full border controls with the EU won’t be ready until at least six months after the end of the Brexit transition period, the government has announced.
Businesses importing goods from Europe will be asked to keep records from 1 January next year of what tariffs they need to pay, but will not be asked to pay them until July.
It comes amid warnings of a shortfall in customs agents to deal with the huge increase in bureaucracy, and tight deadlines for building the new border infrastructure required.
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Business groups have also warned that firms are not ready for the change, while trade experts said this week that companies did not yet have enough information about how the border would actually be operated to properly get ready.
The government says it will phase in full controls from April on products of animal origin, with the extra forms and customs declarations required for all traders three months later.
Officials say they were working on the basis that full controls would be in place for July but that they could be delayed even longer if there is significant disruption.
The European Union is expected to impose full border controls on goods travelling from the UK on 1 January as planned.
“Today’s announcement is very welcome news for the logistics industry,” said Alex Veitch, head of international policy at Freight Transport Association (FTA).
“Government has listened to our concerns and made allowances to enable our sector to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and plan effectively and in good time for a new trading relationship with Europe,” he said, adding that business would “now have time to learn and adapt to new procedures”.
Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister who is overseeing much of Brexit preparation, said: “We have informed the EU today that we will not extend the transition period. The moment for extension has now passed. At the end of this year we will control our own laws and borders which is why we are able to take the sovereign decision to introduce arrangements in a way that gives businesses impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.
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“Today’s announcement is an important step towards getting the country ready for the end of the transition period, but there is still more work to be done by both government and industry to ensure we are ready to seize the opportunities of being a fully independent United Kingdom.”
Mr Gove also confirmed a longstanding government position that the UK would not extend the transition period to provide more time for talks, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Britain will leave the single market and customs union on 31 December, meaning seamless trade between the UK and Europe will end. The government wants to negotiate a free trade agreement that would eliminate all or most tariffs to be paid on goods, but even in this case businesses would still be subject to the new checks and extra paperwork.
The customs sector has said that 50,000 new customs agents will be required to deal with all the new bureaucracy, with nowhere near that recruited so far.
Britain left the European Union in January but is currently in a Brexit transition period under which all EU rules apply until the end of the year.