Brexit Challenges for Northern Ireland

The trading relationship between GB, the EU and NI changed significantly following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. And, as the first month of new trading arrangements drew to a close, there were and still are several areas where challenges remain. In this article I will explore these current issues as well as examine the grace periods in use currently across NI. 

The immediate challenges faced by logistics businesses include a lack of capacity among customs intermediaries, issues with Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks on food consignments and an imbalance between shipments to and from NI, which is ultimately affecting NI hauliers. 

At Logistics UK, we are working with government to address these issues and, in a recent meeting with Michael Gove MP, proposed several solutions, which he has promised to consider. These include a grant to support hauliers affected by increased empty running, which is due to fewer goods moving from GB to NI (volumes of freight from NI to GB have held up better). 

Combined with the impact theCOVID-19lockdown has had on trade, GB suppliers have either been unaware, unprepared, or most worryingly, unwilling to move goods to NI since 1January 2021. Education and support for businesses is also vitally important and we have asked government to facilitate a bespoke advice line targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to assist them in their preparations for moving goods.  

SPS Checks

To help tackle the challenges surround SPS checks, government has introduced two groupage models: the consolidation hubs model and the linear model. In the “consolidation hubs” model, the mixed products arrive at a single specific premises and are consolidated before being certified as a single unit. Using this model, the certifying officer at the premises is able to seal the final consolidated load having certified the goods via documents such as compliance declarations and EHCs. 

The alternative “linear” model will allow hauliers to collect multiple consignments from multiple locations. Each individual consignment must be checked and sealed by a certifying officer before the haulier is able to move on. Once all the consignments have been picked upthe consolidated load is then sealed at the final point of dispatch and the haulier may then leave for the port.

At Logistics UK we are cautiously optimistic that this solution will help prevent delays by reducing the number of vehicles needing to be inspected on arrival in NI. However, the logistics industry will need to continue working closely with both DEFRA and DAERA as the scheme develops as it is still untested for larger volumes of traffic, and it is clear that further IT developments will be required as the system evolves. 

Grace Periods

NI’s logistics sector will also see several changes throughout the next six months as a number of grace periods, aimed at easing the transition, are set to end. Currently, under a grace period that is due to end on 1 April 2021, the majority of parcels entering NI from GB – received by NI residents or business – do not require customs declarations, with the exception of parcels sent business to business containing goods over £135 in value. 

In our opinion, it is essential to use this period to secure a long-term resolution; tens of thousands of parcels are moved into NI per day and it is crucial to reduce the potential impacts caused by the increased administration – such as delays – specifically in relation to business to consumer parcels. 

In a further grace period, also set to end on 1April 2021, most products of plant and animal origin are exempt from Export Health Certificates (EHCs) for entry into NI from GB, subject to conditions. Some products listed under the Prohibited and Restricted categories such as minced meats and sausages are trading only as a result of a six-month grace period that allows continued access to the NI market. 

However, the future for these goods from GB to NI after the end of the grace period on 1 July 2021 is uncertain and, again, this time must be put towards securing a long-term solution which, in my opinion, could include a possible trusted trader scheme for retailers and food suppliers. 

Working Together

Overall, while there are challenges ahead, we believe that the logistics industry is highly adaptable and by working together with government we can secure long-term solutions to the challenges faced, to ensure the smooth flow of goods continues across our borders. 

The NI protocol as we see it today should not be viewed as the finished article, but rather a work in progress and it is our job, along with other sectors, to ensure we can shape it in order to ease burdens and formalities on GB to NI supply chains.