This article was published before we became the Chartered Institute of Export & International Trade on 10 July 2024, and this is reflected in references to our old brand and name. For more information about us becoming Chartered, visit our dedicated webpage on the change here.


Only a quarter of small British businesses are ready for new import controls that are due to be introduced on 1 January 2022 for goods entering Britain from the EU, new data has found.

Under the UK’s Border Operating Model for post-Brexit trade, import declarations will be required for all imports from the EU into the country at the point of entry. At this point, customs checks will also begin for goods entering Britain.

Further controls – including certain sanitary and phytosanitary controls – will be introduced later in the new year.


A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that only one in four SMEs that will be impacted by the new rules are ready.

A third said that they were unaware of their new requirements until they were polled by the FSB.

One in eight said they feel unable to prepare for the introduction of new border checks in the current climate.

FSB national chair Mike Cherry told the FT that the “turmoil of the past 18 months, concerns about the spread of Covid, and this being the busiest time of year” were behind businesses’ lack of preparation.

Varied readiness

Businesses have been warned about the new rules throughout 2021.

In an IOE&IT webinar in October, IOE&IT Academy director general Kevin Shakespeare warned: “If you’re not ready, we urge you to look at the training and consultancy support from the IOE&IT on completing declarations.”

Over half of the businesses attending this webinar said they were either ‘Very’ or ‘Quite prepared’ for the requirement to complete declarations on 1 January.

HMRC also recently wrote to businesses to remind them of the new rules.

Technological solutions

On 1 January, the government’s Goods Vehicle Movement Service will also become operational for goods entering Britain from the EU and it will become a requirement for ports that are operating a ‘pre-lodgement model’.

Under this model, hauliers will need to pre-lodge declarations for the goods they are carrying into Britain, using GVMS, to generate a Goods Movement Reference number. Hauliers will not be allowed to board any ferry heading to a British port adopting the pre-lodgement model if they do not possess a GMR.

Other ports will be adopting a temporary storage model whereby customs formalities are completed for the goods entering Britain while they are in storage at that port for a maximum time of 90 days.

For more information about the new GVMS system, sign up to our free webinar tomorrow (8 December).

Smart border

The government will also begin trails of a new ‘smart’ customs border next year, which the FT reports will involve “cutting-edge technologies that it hopes will reduce trade frictions for British importers”.

The UK has committed to spending £180m to build a ‘single trade window’ system to streamline customs processes by allowing border agencies like HMRC, DEFRA and Border Force to share information in real-time.


IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione describes the new technology as allowing “the trader to submit documents such as bills of lading and commercial invoices once only, for all agencies to access them, rather than dealing with multiple parties in different locations.”

Blogging about its potential introduction, he said: “Many countries are already developing their own trade windows and the UK has made its intentions clear that it will be doing the same. The UK can have a strong voice in helping to shape how these trade windows will work, but it is essential that we don’t do this in isolation.”