Wednesday 21 August 2019 8:08 am

Business groups hail 'long overdue' move on customs system

Businesses are to be automatically enrolled in a new customs system, as part of government efforts to keep British firms trading after Brexit. 

HMRC will allocate more than 88,000 firms with an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number in the next fortnight – double the existing number. Letters informing companies of their EORI number will start arriving as early as today. 

So far, 72,000 companies have EORI numbers. Some 240,000 firms are estimated to require the status by 31 October, the point at which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK will leave the EU “deal or no deal”.

Businesses without an EORI number will be unable to continue to trade with EU member states.

Chancellor Sajid Javid said:  “There can be no time for delay which is why HMRC has allocated thousands of businesses with a trading number to ensure they can continue to trade their goods through Europe from day one.

“This will help ease the flow of goods at border points and support businesses to trade and grow.”

It comes as part of the government’s ramped up preparations for a no-deal Brexit and follows calls from business groups to speed up the rollout of the scheme. 

They welcomed the news – but urged more action from Westminster.

British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said: ““Businesses do not want a messy and disorderly ‘no deal’ Brexit on 31 October, but given the ticking clock, it’s prudent that both government and industry be as prepared as possible. The proportion of firms applying for EORI numbers was concerningly low, and automatic issuance will help ease the administrative burden facing companies in the weeks and months ahead.  

“Sorting EORI numbers is only a first step. For many firms, it will trigger more questions. Businesses still need clarity on many other cross-border trade issues, such as customs procedures at borders following a no deal exit and when the Government will launch an official database to provide ease of access to information on tariffs and quotas. The government must urgently provide answers to these questions,  and ramp up both guidance and support for businesses.”  

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Chairman Mike Cherry, added: “Focus must now move on to what other support government can offer to small businesses including those small businesses exclusively trading with the EU that are below the VAT register.

“Small business need an Emergency Budget before 31 October with across the board measures to boost cash flow and help small business prepare, and adapt, to any new trading circumstances from 1 November.”

Main image: Getty