Post-Brexit Customs Models Discussed

Businesses from West & North Yorkshire have met with government representatives to discuss post-Brexit future customs arrangements.

The meeting, organised by West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, saw attendees call for the government to avoid a prolonged transition period, as this would add to increasing levels of uncertainty facing many firms.  It was suggested that the two-year period put forward by the government was formed without adequate assessment of what was actually needed.  The purpose of the session was two-fold: for the civil servants to take soundings on two possible post-Brexit customs arrangements being considered; and for businesses to comment on the possible effects on their operations of these new models.

The meeting was held at Shulmans LLP in Leeds recently, and attended by civil servants from the Treasury and HMRC.  Shulmans’ partner Andrew Latchmore, who chairs the Chamber’s Brexit Advisory Group, facilitated the meeting with two dozen senior business people, mainly from manufacturers and engineers who import and export.

Anastassia Beliakova of British Chambers of Commerce (white jacket) and Andrew Latchmore (to Anastassia’s left) at a previous Brexit meeting

The two options put forward – described as a “streamlined arrangement” and a “new customs partnership” – are aimed at smoothing the transition for businesses, while acknowledging that both involve moving into unchartered territory.  The first involves harnessing technological solutions and sharing data, with the second being a complex system, mirroring the EU’s approach but backed by rigorous tracking to clarify origin and destination of goods; the latter method would allow tariff reimbursements or paying additional duty where differences exist between EU and UK tariff rates.  Option two assumes, at present, that the UK would enjoy no tariff barriers for EU trade – a position deemed unlikely, according to those at the meeting and other observers.  The businesses present said there was insufficient detail on either option at present, although they were keen to engage again with the civil servants.

Andrew Latchmore said afterwards:

“The Chamber meeting was the latest in a series aimed at both seeking business views about Brexit, and creating a dialogue with Westminster and Whitehall to develop the new policies needed in this area.  There is no precedent for these negotiations, nor the surrounding work.  While the two models considered are certainly challenging, the representatives at the meeting stressed that these were models for consideration but other suggestions for customs models can and should be put forward.  The strong message the civil servants took away was that the uncertainty of not knowing the post-Brexit arrangements has begun to cause difficulties for businesses now.  Once the nature of the customs regime becomes clear, businesses can plan ahead and make the best of the arrangements, whatever they are, even if they are not ideal.  A transition period will be necessary and helpful but what matters most is that an early agreement is reached as to what the arrangements will be, and the decision is promptly communicated to business.  We must not still be in a position of uncertainty 12 months from now.”

The officials present agreed to return for future meetings once more views and evidence have been gathered.