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Great Britain-Northern Ireland Trade: All Support Schemes + Systems for businesses

(S,P) We identify the key practical instruments for every business trading in both directions. Plus an update on Article 16!

In October 2019, the UK and EU agreed on a special Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, known as the Northern Ireland/Ireland protocol.

Best of both worlds

The Withdrawal Agreement containing the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol meant that Northern Ireland is part of the UK's customs territory while applying EU Single Market and Customs Rules - a unique situation that allows businesses in Northern Ireland the best of both worlds:

  1. Access to the EU Single Market

  2. Access to Great Britain

Unfettered access NI ⇾ GB

The UK government like to state that they have "preserved unfettered access for Northern Ireland traders moving goods into Great Britain, removing the need for export declarations". This, of course, was true, but there now requires being an import declaration in NI (+EU), leading to a border in the Irish Sea and causing trade frictions. Find out which goods qualify for unfettered access when moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

READ: When do I need to make an export declaration from NI to GB?


Support Schemes

The UK government has produced three major schemes to reduce the red tape associated with the UK's decision to leave the EU:

1. Trader Support Service (TSS): This free UK Government-backed service guides businesses through any changes they need to make, and can provide a digital-first help to completing customs declarations. The TSS also offers a comprehensive range of educational materials including online training, webinars and “how-to” guides, free of charge.

TRAINING Promotion

2. UK Trader Scheme

To declare goods not ‘at risk’, authorisation must be sought from the UK Trader Scheme

3. Movement Assistance Scheme (MAS): Free support, including a dedicated helpline, is available for traders and businesses moving animals, plants and associated products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. MAS also means that traders will not need to pay health certification costs, which will be met by the UK Government.



Hauliers wanting to move goods through a port in the UK that uses the ​Goods Vehicle Movement Service​ (GVMS) will need to register for the service to get goods through customs.

Other Trade Routes available

Moving goods indirectly from Great Britain to Northern Ireland via Ireland

Goods can be moved from Great Britain into Northern Ireland via Ireland under ​Transit​, and the ​Trader Support Service​ is able to support movements these If they are not moved under Transit they follow the same procedures as a standard ​export to the European Union​, even if these goods are subsequently mov into Northern Ireland. ​Irish import requirements​ must also be followed. ​Once goods are in Ireland, they can be moved freely into Northern Ireland with no further paperwork.

Moving goods indirectly from Northern Ireland to Great Britain via Ireland

Goods can be moved from Northern Ireland into Great Britain via Ireland under ​Transit​, and the ​Trader Support Service​ is able to support these movements​.

If they are not moved under Transit they follow the same process as standard ​import from the European Union​. ​Irish export requirements, including providing an export declaration must also be followed. There is no requirement for any processes to move goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Trade Frictions in GB to NI trade remain

Grace Periods get extended several times, before becoming "permanent" unilaterally

Despite the best efforts, disruption in trade across the Irish Sea remained. Throughout 2021, the UK used easements on the post-Brexit trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland for almost two years.

In February 2021, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove made the request in a letter to European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič accusing Brussels of having “undermined” the Northern Ireland/Ireland protocol. Grace periods that allow lighter enforcement on EU rules over supermarket goods, pharmaceuticals, chilled meats and parcels heading from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

Letter from UK to EU (February 2021)

Download • 180KB

Bullet Points Northern Ireland

20210128 Northern Ireland Protocol Bulle
Download • 92KB

Command Paper

Some easements were due to come to an end in 2021, raising fears about further border disruption. No permanent solutions to border issues were found during extended grace periods. Issues ranged from pet products to seeds and other plant products, medicines and chilled meats.

In July 2021, the UK issued their Command Paper requesting renegotiations.

READ MORE: EU-GB: The fight for Northern Ireland - Round 10 (July - September 2021)

The UK escalates the fight for NI by wishing to redo the I/NI protocol and indefinitely extended the Grace Period. Here is the summary of the latest drama.

Throughout 2021, Gove and new Brexit Minister Lord Frost suggested that if the demands are not met, the U.K. could trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol.

September 2021 EU Easement Proposals

In face of the criticism, the European Commission has proposed bespoke arrangements to respond to the difficulties that people in Northern Ireland have been experiencing because of Brexit, by further facilitating the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland:

Article 16

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol is an emergency article. In November 2021, there was growing speculation that the UK is planning to use Article 16. The Irish government had said that such a move would be "reckless and irresponsible". The UK government said it "would not go down this route gratuitously or with any particular pleasure".

Unilateral safeguard measures

Article 16 of the protocol sets out the process for taking unilateral "safeguard" measures if either the EU or UK concludes that the deal is leading to serious practical problems or causing diversion of trade. Additionally, it says that priority shall be given to measures that will "least disturb" the functioning of the protocol. After safeguarding measures are implemented, negotiations should continue, with the measures being jointly reviewed every three months with a view to their abolition or limitation.

The BBC says "However, this would still seem to give the UK government quite wide discretion on what action to take. If it believes the rules for getting goods into NI from GB are irredeemably complicated it could move to entirely suspend articles 5, 7, 8 and 10 of the protocol which deal with customs, products standards, VAT and state aid. That would effectively end the Irish Sea border and from the EU's perspective create a backdoor into its single market".

If the EU concludes that the UK's actions create an "imbalance" between its rights and obligations under the protocol, then it can take "proportionate rebalancing measures". These are not defined and would largely be determined by what the UK does. In terms of immediate response, any EU rebalancing measures would need to be proportionate, and 'strictly necessary to remedy the imbalance'. These caveats limit the scope of the EU's immediate (legal) response,"

The EU is also understood to be preparing legal measures which, for example, could challenge the scope of the UK's Article 16 actions.

Essential, online Customs & Global Trade Support

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Where to find even more help and support

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