UK Customs systems `will deal with Brexit – probably`

7th April 2017

UK Customs systems `will deal with Brexit – probably`

Forwarding representatives are working closely with key UK government agencies HMRC and Border Force in preparation for Britain’s exit from the European Union and are optimistic the UK and its customs systems will cope with the challenges of Brexit – “probably”.

Peter MacSwiney, chairman of Agency Sector Management (ASM) – which deals with technology issues on behalf of UK freight forwarding association the British International Freight Association (BIFA) – outlined to delegates this week at a Brexit Briefing at Multimodal 2017 some of the ways in which BIFA and ASM are interacting with government agencies, in particular via the Joint Customs Clearance Committee (JCCC). BIFA is a member of JCCC, the overarching body for Customs legislation in the UK, with MacSwiney joint chair of the Brexit sub-committee.

He said a frictionless border was the highest priority, and so the sub-committee was looking at what the UK will need to achieve that. One of the most important elements is to prevent delays at the borders so that “we do not get a traffic jam from Paris to Stoke-on-Trent. This means we need the goods Customs cleared before they reach the ferry or Channel Tunnel,” MacSwiney said.

Some government regulatory bodies are resistant to that and MacSwiney noted that when Prime Minister Theresa May speaks about Brexit, she is very controlled until she hits the word ‘Customs’. “This is quite worrying, especially as it seems the Customs agenda will have to wait until the issues of people and who owes what to who have been sorted out,” he noted.

But he said the UK’s Border Force, which has in the past opposed pre-clearance, had begun making more positive noises about its possibility.

MacSwiney pointed out the UK has spent the last 40 years aligning its systems with those of the rest of Europe so “it would be a shame to throw that all away – to put it mildly.” For instance, he would like to keep the Single Transit Contract so that, for a consignment going from Heathrow to Paris to New York, the port of EU export would be deemed as Heathrow as it is now.

MacSwiney also explained that the new Customs Declarations Service (CDS) will gradually replace CHIEF began development several years ago and so was not designed to deal with Brexit. “But I think it probably will,” he said.

His main message was that one of pragmatic reassurance: “I think we are going to be OK,” he said. “We are engaging fully with Customs and they are listening to us. In the UK, we have a history of sorting things out.”

BIFA director general Robert Keen told delegates that nobody really knows yet what the Brexit implications are for trade – and he brought along a crystal ball to emphasise the point. But he said freight forwarders and the wider logistics business could be sure that in BIFA and ASM, “you have the best people talking to Customs on your behalf”.

He concluded: “The complexity and level of detail is mind-boggling, but hopefully you have been reassured that we have the best people and best tools – as well as the crystal ball, of course.”


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