No-deal Brexit: Customs advice for small businesses

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David Miller from The Customs People clarifies the practical measures small businesses should take if they trade with the EU, to comply with the government’s advice on no deal Brexit .

Importance of planning

With a variety of Brexit outcomes remaining on the table, the government recently reiterated how important it is for businesses to plan for a no-deal scenario. In a series of letters sent to businesses in December, the government offered advice on what actions firms should take immediately to prepare for the UK leaving the EU on 29th March 2019 without a deal.

The four variations of the government’s letter offer different guidance depending on the nature of how each business trades with the EU. At the heart of each letter the advice is broadly the same; implement a plan immediately and seek specific guidance on how a no-deal Brexit will affect your operations.

The three key steps are set out below.

EORI number

This first piece of advice to register for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number is a simple step that all businesses can take immediately.

An EORI number is used to register and track customs information in the EU and is required by any business that trades with European nations. You will need an EORI number for various customs processes when the UK leaves the EU, so it is important to get this sooner rather than later so that you are well prepared.

The paperwork required to obtain an EORI number is relatively straightforward and you can apply via the government website. You should receive your EORI number within a week, although waiting times could become longer if there is a huge influx of applications as the date of Brexit draws closer.

Hire a customs agent

This second piece of advice is to decide whether to hire an agent to make import/export declarations or whether you will make these declarations yourself.

This is an important decision, as every business that imports from or exports to the EU after Brexit will be required to make customs declarations in order to move goods - even the UK agrees a withdrawal deal with the EU. As a member of the EU, UK businesses do not currently need these documents as there is free movement of goods between all member states, but that freedom ends when Brexit begins.

It is possible to complete customs declarations yourself, but it is an incredibly complex process. In my years of working in this field I have only ever personally witnessed one business taking on this responsibility themselves, before eventually handing it over to an agent.

I would strongly advise using a customs agent and recommend that companies start building relationships with customs agents now, and discuss the individual requirements of your business. There are currently 55 million customs declarations made in the UK annually, but this figure will rise to 255 million declarations post-Brexit.

Establishing relationships with more than one agent is wise, as they will be incredibly busy in the lead up to Brexit and some might not be able to cope with the demand, so you should aim to have more than one option available to you.

Contact suppliers   

You should contact the organisation that moves your goods to find out if you will need to supply additional information to them.

All businesses should be following this advice to see what Brexit plans are being made by the organisations that move their goods, but the conversation should not stop there.

My main piece of advice to all firms that deal with imports or exports to the EU is to speak to your suppliers now and ask a simple question: What is your Brexit planning? Starting this conversation is essential, as you can do all the planning in the world for your own business but there could still be fatal consequences for your organisation if your suppliers have not planned at all.

In my experience, European suppliers will be far less likely to have a robust Brexit plan in place than UK businesses, simply because this is not as high on their agenda. It is your responsibility to push your suppliers to implement a plan - both for a withdrawal deal and a no-deal Brexit - and to keep this conversation flowing. Engaging them in this discussion as soon as possible will serve all parties well during the coming months and years.


The government advice is a useful reminder to businesses that they should be acting now on Brexit, but every organisation will be impacted in a different way. The only foolproof way to minimise the risk to your business is to get tailored advice from an expert and come up with a bespoke plan that serves your individual Brexit needs.

About David Miller

David Miller

David has more than 25 years’ experience in the Customs and VAT industries and has previously worked for HMRC before joining The Customs People and sister company The VAT People almost 20 years ago. The Customs People  is one of the only businesses of its kind in the UK and assists British businesses with negotiating import VAT and import duties and the complexities of HMRC legislation.


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