Even with all the current political unrest, legally, The Brexit deadline is still 29 March, which means that Stuart Farr will finally be able to give up international trade predictions for lent.

March will involve a bit of pancake tossing followed by a pensive trip to IWA – a last opportunity to visit Europe before Brexit

The last few months have seen some pretty impressive feats of human endeavour. At the back end of last year, Ross Edgley made the record books as the first swimmer to circumnavigate the whole of Great Britain. Sadly his 1,796 mile salty water trek caused him to leave part of his tongue behind, but nonetheless his feat was a proper demonstration of derring-do.

As soon as the New Year turned, NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft took a photo of the most distant object ever visited, Ultima Thule, the snowman shaped lump of rock floating around the Kuiper belt some four billion miles away. But it didn’t stop there…shortly after, on 4 January, China placed an unmanned probe of the dark side of the moon. An epic achievement which took place roughly over a distance of 239,000 miles.

To my amazement these events passed many of us by – in most cases with barely a nod of respectful admiration. So why then, I respectfully ask, after such immense feats of bravery, ingenuity, intelligence, co-operation and initiative is the nation literally biting its nails over the apparent impossibility of transporting a few lorries safely between Dover to Calais – a distance of just 30.9 miles across a heavily trafficked sea lane – after 29 March 2019?

Of course, for many of you, March will involve a bit of pancake tossing on Shrove Tuesday followed by a pensive trip to Nuremberg for the IWA Outdoor Classics which starts three days later. After a few days of business there – hopefully really good business and without too much ribbing from “the Europeans” – it could then be your last chance to undertake a seamless “grand tour” on your EU plates before returning to the UK.

News alerts will have already warned us against travelling abroad during the Spring and certainly not for anything as frivolous as a holiday. Essential travel only.

For those of you who are driving to the continent on business in March, be prepared for your immediate family and close friends to implore you to visit a hypermarket on your way back. It could, of course, be your only opportunity to stock up on the last decent red wine and French cheese you’ll see in many a year.

Next month you see, it’s back to a war-time diet of root vegetables, black pudding and dandelion & burdock for us lot. Nothing edible is getting through the Border once the shutters come down and, even if it does, it’ll be rotten on the lorry before it leaves Kent. Rumour has it there will be a revival in foraging and the hospitals will be literally full of people who mistook the harmless looking mushroom picked from their local hedgerow as being just that.

There are already fears over the impossibility of transporting a few lorries safely between Dover and Calais

The good news is that shooters will survive…for only we will have the knowledge and means to gather meat. Clay pigeons will make way for Woodies and the domestic clay shooting rules are at risk of being changed to allow all clay shooters to wear camouflage to reflect their need to catch dinner straight after a competition.

So, why are the doom and gloom rumours flying around that movement across our Borders will degenerate into a complete mess after 29 March?  Frankly – and without wishing to be “political” in any sense – it’s partly down to the Border Force itself. In late October 2018, the National Audit Office produced a report which, it has to be said, gave some rather eye-watering information regarding our preparedness for an EU exit.

For instance, the number of customs declarations it may need to process after 29 March is expected to rise from around 55 million to 260 million. 11 out of 12 critical IT systems at the border have been assessed as being at risk of either not being delivered on time and/or not meeting acceptable quality. It also estimates that 145,000 to 250,000 traders would have to make customs declarations for the first time in the event of a no-deal.

The above report also does its best to place the burden of preparedness firmly on you. It acknowledges that Government departments can only implement some of the changes that are required and goes on to say that it is “heavily dependent on third parties, such as traders, being well informed and making changes to their systems and behaviours”.

A big ask, it could be argued, in light of the open acknowledgements that many published technical notes may not contain sufficient detail and it’s already too late to implement changes in infrastructure, people, systems or processes at the Border.

That said, the government has published “partnership packs” in an effort to provide businesses with information on the possible forthcoming changes. In essence they tell us the following:

  • From 11pm on 29 March 2019, businesses trading with the EU will need to apply the same customs and excise rules to goods moving between the UK and the EU as are currently applied in cases where goods move between the UK and a country outside the EU.
  • Customs declarations would therefore be needed when goods enter the UK (an import declaration), or when they leave the UK (an export declaration).
  • For imports into the UK, a separate safety and security declaration is required. This is usually made by the carrier of the goods (the haulier, airline, freight train operator or shipping line, depending on the mode of transport used to import goods).
  • For exports from the UK, the export declaration includes the safety and security declaration.
  • The EU will apply customs and excise rules to goods it receives from the UK, in the same way it does for goods it receives from outside the EU. As such, the EU will require customs declarations on goods coming from, or going to, the UK, as well as requiring separate safety and security declarations for imports into the EU.

Perhaps one additional question to consider is who should bear the risk for possible failures at the Borders? For the avoidance of doubt, it is unlikely that legal complaints against Border Force itself are going to provide a readily achievable and cost effective answer.

The most likely scenario is that risk will need to be borne or shared between the traders on both sides.  Yes, you do need to “know your stuff” from now on if you intend to undertake or continue business in the EU. Whatever scenario finally pans out – deal, no-deal or maybe even something in between – our Border processes are highly likely to change.

However, it is equally important to ask the question of your suppliers abroad. Are they ready for the changes on their side? A simple enquiry of your suppliers may provide you with some valuable re-assurance but do also consider whether your contracts with suppliers in the EU need to be revised in order to alter the burden of risk for such things as delay and decay.

Products which are stuck in containers at ports can’t be sold and are at increased risk of damage and deterioration. If it transpires the relevant documentation was not provided or the necessary declarations not made do you want to bear the full cost for someone else’s – or even your own – errors?

Being informed and prepared is going to be key to ensuring business life carries on as near as possible to normal in the coming weeks and months. Thankfully, the Ides of March (15 March) will have passed us by when our final departure takes effect but as I have suggested, if you are not back in the UK by the time of Brexit your food rations will be divided up and sprinkled liberally into the pancake mix.

Good luck and see you on the other side – whether or not the 29 March ends up being the final deadline – which it may not! 


Stuart is a solicitor and partner at Knights plc. He has been a shooting enthusiast for over 30 years and welcomes contact from trade members: stuart.farr@knightsplc.com

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