Public Services > Central Government

Government paper pins sky-high hopes on technology to solve Brexit customs dilemma

David Bicknell Published 15 August 2017

Paper frequently quotes role of “technology-based solutions” to make the customs regime as smooth as possible for importers and exporters


The government has published its position paper on future customs arrangements post-Brexit, outlining thinking that may play an important part in the design and implementation of future customs IT systems.

The paper, the first in a series of papers setting out the UK government’s thinking on its future relationship with the EU, details its aspirations for the UK’s future customs arrangements.

It frequently quotes “technology-based solutions”, as a means of making it easier to comply with customs procedures and appears to be looking for extensive input and solutions from the IT community.

The paper is written with trade in mind and in particular, reducing any administrative burdens. It says, “The UK’s traders are a key part of our economy and the government is clear that any new customs system should be as facilitative as possible to encourage growth in trade with the EU and the rest of the world, and should mitigate to the greatest extent possible against any additional administrative burdens or delays.”

As broadly leaked earlier today, the government believes that there are two broad approaches the UK could adopt to meet its objectives:

The first alternative is a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” between the UK and the EU, streamlining and simplifying requirements, leaving as few additional requirements on EU trade as possible.

The paper said this would aim to continue some of the existing arrangements between the UK and the EU, putting in place new negotiated and potentially unilateral facilitations to reduce and remove barriers to trade; and adopting technology to help, including developing “new innovative facilitations to deliver as frictionless a customs border as possible.”

The alternative is a new customs partnership with the EU, aligning the UK’s approach to the customs border in a way that removes the need for a UK-EU customs border. The paper says one potential approach would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU.

The paper specifically states that the approach is “unprecedented” and could be challenging to implement.

The paper also refers in paragraph 26 to HM Revenue & Customs’ development of its Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which will replace the existing HMRC customs system (CHIEF).

The paper says, “This is a high priority project within Government and HMRC is on track to deliver by January 2019. CDS will be compliant with the EU’s Union Customs Code to ensure continuity for business and will provide modern, digital customs technology, which will ensure HMRC has the flexibility needed to deal with the outcome of the negotiations with the EU.

“Utilising CHIEF, the UK has accepted electronic declarations since the 1990s, reducing the need for paperwork and streamlining processes for business. CDS will build on this track-record by accommodating new digital functionality, providing businesses engaged in international trade with a robust, modern and flexible declarations service capable of dealing with our future trade with the EU and the rest of the world.”

The paper outlines plans to reduce the time and costs of complying with customs administrative requirements through exploring the viability of unilateral measures, primarily in respect of imports. These could include simplifications for business, such as self-assessment to allow traders to calculate their own customs duties and aggregate their customs declarations; and speeding up some authorisation processes through increased automation and better use of data, while in the longer-term streamlining authorisation requirements to reduce complexity.

The government says it will look to simplify the requirements for moving goods across borders, and look at options to reduce the pressure and risk of delays at ports and airports by bilateral implementation of a “technology-based solution” for roll-on, roll-off ports which could consist of pre-arrival notification of consignments on a port IT system, linked to customs declarations and vehicle registration numbers so that vehicles were not required to stop at the border, enabling traffic to flow smoothly.

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