Until the end of the transition period, the UK continued to be treated as if it were part of the EU Single Market and Customs Union. This meant that goods could enter the UK from the EU without customs declarations and with minimal red tape. However, from 1 January 2021, the level of red tape is set to increase substantially – and if goods do not meet the origin requirements in the UK-EU trade deal (see Question 12), tariffs may also be payable on imported goods.
NOTE: The UK Government originally announced that controls on imports from the EU would be phased in, with full controls being applied from 1 July 2021. In March 2021, however, it announced that most controls will not be introduced until 1 January 2022, effectively postponing the application of full controls by 6 months. In September 2021, the UK Government announced a number of further postponements, mostly relating to agri-food products. This section has been amended to reflect the revised timetable.
1 January 2021
From 1 January 2021, as a temporary measure, most goods imported from the EU will be allowed to enter the UK without providing full customs paperwork "upfront" (as is currently required for goods entering the UK from non-EU countries).
Instead, most businesses will be able to make customs declarations and pay any applicable tariffs "in arrears" (within 6 months of the point of import). Similarly, import VAT will not have to be paid at the point of import; it can be paid at a later date, by using postponed VAT accounting (in the case of VAT-registered businesses – see Question 11 for more detail). However, "upfront" customs declarations will be required in respect of controlled goods (e.g. medicines, firearms, etc) and excise goods (e.g. tobacco and alcohol). UK Safety and Security declarations will also not be required, further reducing the level of paperwork required on an "upfront basis".
For most goods, the level of physical checks is likely to be very low at this stage, although all "high risk live animals and plants" will still be subject to such checks. However, these will take place away from ports, to help to avoid congestion. Following a postponement announced in September 2021, it appears that physical checks will not be required on most food products until 1 July 2022 and a number of paperwork requirements are being postponed until the same date (having originally been scheduled for 1 October 2021); this is significant because, unlike the majority of other types of product (where only a small percentage are subject to physical checks), the normal rule is that all food entering the UK must undergo a physical check. This easement should therefore help to avoid delays to food imports from the EU, at least until 1 January 2022 (when customs declarations will be required on all goods, including food) - although material disruption may still occur (see Question 5 below).