HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has said EU imports will not be subject to extra checks at UK ports in the event of a "no deal" Brexit.
In recent months freight companies have warned that leaving the EU without a deal would lead to miles-long queues at major ports such as Dover due to the possibility of extra customs checks on the thousands of lorries that enter the UK.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in less than two months' time on 29 March. The date has been left hanging in the balance following the defeat of Theresa May's Brexit deal last month and the subsequent opening of talks with the EU on the issue of the Irish backstop.
HMRC today said it had transitional procedures for importing goods from the EU through 20 British ports and the Channel Tunnel, which it would review three to six months after the UK's scheduled exit date.
“For a temporary period, HMRC will allow most goods moving from the listed roll on roll off locations to leave the UK port or train station before you’ve told us that the goods have arrived,” it said.
Importers must notify HMRC by the end of the next working day that the goods have arrived in the UK, and businesses will need to register for the simplified import procedure which will allow them to transport goods in the UK without having to make a full customs declaration at the port or later and paying any duty.
Under current rules for trading with the rest of the world, goods are not released from customs control until a full import declaration is made and the duty is paid or accounted for.
Ronan Quigley, executive director responsible for trade at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said it was "reassuring" that HMRC has introduced the transitional arrangements in the event of the "unwelcome scenario of no deal".
“The priority of business communities across the UK is to avoid a messy and disorderly Brexit on 29 March," he said. "In the unwelcome scenario of no deal, we have been fighting long and hard to avoid prolonged checks at the border and gridlock on our motorways. In the case of no deal, it is reassuring that HMRC are introducing these transitional simplified procedures, which will make importing easier by simplifying the declarations at the border and postponing the payment of import duties that would otherwise be due.
“These letters to business are important communications and government must do everything it can to let firms know what they’ll need in terms of new documentation to trade with the EU. Many businesses are still in the dark about the benefits of gaining an EORI [economic operator registration identification] number in order to maintain continuity of trade if there is no deal – these letters help to highlight their importance and the need for traders to take action.”
However, Geraint Davies MP for the Best for Britain campaign said: “They said we would take back control of our borders but now the plan is to wave things through irrespective of our safety. We’ll have no idea what is coming into our ports.”