While it hasn’t been quite the all-conquering news story we might have predicted it to be, Brexit has finally come into force. Among the biggest sources of contention throughout the process has been what to do about Northern Ireland. The uncertainty was so great in the build-up to January 1st that many major retailers, like John Lewis, elected to suspend sending products across the Irish Sea. This despite the Prime Minister’s repeated assurances that there would be no border to contend with.
In order to solve this problem (or, more accurately, to delay the point at which it should be solved), a three-month grace period has been introduced, leading from January right up to the 1st April. Couriers have warned that the period will see disruption – but exactly what’s causing it?
One exception to the grace period concerns goods valued at more than £135, which will necessitate a customs declaration on the part of the Northern-Ireland-based company receiving the goods. This applies whether the goods are shipped through an express carrier or through Royal Mail. Affected businesses are encouraged to sign up to the government’s Trader Support Service.
Other sorts of goods will need to be accompanied by a declaration, regardless of their value. These goods are taxed at the point of manufacture and include things like alcohol and tobacco. The government recommends that retailers selling these goods should get in touch with their delivery company.
The Confederation of British Industry has urged against a punitive approach to those who get it wrong during the early period. The organisation’s chief UK policy director, Matthew Fell, expressed surprise that “…businesses still do not yet know what awaits them as vehicles roll off and how each member state will marshal the new rules on day one.”
This added bureaucracy imposes costs on delivery firms, many of whom will pass their costs on to their customers directly. These include DPD, which announced prior to Christmas that it would suspend deliveries in the province, and Amazon Prime, which angered customers by warning of delays – even for those who pay monthly to ensure next-day delivery.
One consequence of having thousands of business simultaneously rush to submit paperwork via an online Customs Declaration System is that the system in question was only delivered in late 2020, and may not have been adequately stress-tested to cope with the demand. Moreover, the software is complicated enough that simply installing it could take up to two weeks, according to the chair of the Association of Freight Software Suppliers.
The grace period grants business a little bit of wriggle-room. If you’re shipping to or from Northern Ireland, or the EU, it’s worth auditing your arrangements before the April 1st deadline.