Frequently Asked Questions about trade after Brexit

Find answers to your most pressing questions about the UK’s exit from the EU and new rules for doing business.

These FAQs were last updated in November 2021.

A trade and cooperation agreement was reached between the UK and the EU before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. However, doing business with the EU has changed and companies need to follow new rules on exports, imports, tariffs and hiring, among other things.

We’ve compiled common business customer queries into a series of FAQs, with clear answers and links to further information where relevant.

The questions cover general enquiries, business strategy, operations and business practices, supply chain management, financing and investments.

If you have a question not covered here, please speak to your Relationship Manager or Business Relationship Team.

We have signed the Government’s SME Finance Charter to demonstrate our ongoing support to SMEs through Brexit and beyond. Read the charter to find out more.

Not a business? If you’re a personal customer, take a look at our personal Brexit FAQs for the most frequently asked questions about our products and services relating to Brexit.

General FAQs

 

1. What was the outcome of the trade talks between the UK and the EU?

In December 2020, the UK and the EU agreed a deal on trade and other issues. Central to this was the agreement not to apply tariffs to goods that are traded between the UK and EU, subject to certain exclusions, most notably around the origin of the product and its component parts.

See full details of the agreements between the UK and EU (PDF, 200KB).

See the UK Government’s summary of the UK’s new relationship with the EU.

Useful further reading:

BBC - Brexit deal: What is in it?

European Commission - EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: A new relationship, with big changes (PDF, 263KB)

See how the deal with the EU affects your business using the UK Government’s Brexit checker tool

See the CBI’s Transition Hub.

 

2. How does the trade agreement differ from the UK and EU’s pre-Brexit trading relationship?

The UK and the EU have agreed a free trade agreement, meaning many goods can be traded between the two parties with no tariffs and no quotas, subject to certain exclusions, most notably around the origin of the product and its component parts.

However, there will be extra safety checks and customs declarations at the border, which businesses need to be aware of.

In terms of trading services, UK firms have lost their automatic right of access to the single market.

There will also no longer be automatic recognition of professional qualifications, for example, for doctors, nurses and architects.

See full details of the agreements between the UK and EU (PDF, 7.5MB).

 

3. Are all the post-Brexit regulation changes now in force?

A series of Brexit related changes are being phased in over a number of months or even years to give businesses time to adjust and prepare. Some regulations will also be subject to ongoing reviews and the UK/EU committees formed as part of the trade agreement will review certain aspects of the deal, which could result in further changes.

In September 2021, the UK Government issued a revised timetable for introducing full import controls for goods being imported from the EU to the UK, to give businesses more time to adjust.

Under the new plans, controls will be phased in over the course of 2022.

See the updated Border Operating Model.

 

4. What opportunities will the trade agreement bring for my business?

The EU is the UK’s biggest trading partner and the deal covers trade which was worth £668 billion in 2019, according to the UK Government.

The deal means that businesses can trade with the EU without any tariffs or limits on the amount of goods they can import or export, as long as they meet certain provisions, specifically rules of origin requirements.

However, businesses will still need to follow new import and export rules, including around making customs declarations. It’s important to check the new rules and see what impact they will have on your business and whether they affect how attractive the EU is as a trading partner. 

Use the Government’s Brexit Checker tool.

In September 2021, the UK Government announced a review of the new laws that were introduced to keep UK law aligned with EU law, saying they will be improved or repealed if they don’t benefit British citizens and businesses.

 

5. I don’t trade with Europe, so Brexit won’t affect me, will it?

Even if you don’t trade with suppliers or customers in the EU, or countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), you may be experiencing the knock-on effects of the new rules for living, working, travelling and doing business in the UK and EU that are affecting your suppliers and customers. Your employees are also likely to be affected if they are from the EU.

Checks are required on goods crossing the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is having cost and time implications for many businesses.

If you haven’t done so already, you may want to review your supply chain and your customer base, identify any issues which have emerged since the end of the transition period and take steps, wherever possible, to mitigate them. You might want to make more use of domestic suppliers, for example.

Whatever your current trade arrangements, it’s worth reviewing your business strategy in light of the new trading relationship with the EU and considering any opportunities in terms of international trade both with the EU and beyond.

To find out more about opportunities for international trade, visit Bank of Scotland’s International Trade Portal.

Also see the Scottish Government’s guide: Get exporting help and support.

To keep up to date on any new regulations visit GOV.UK.

 

6. What is the new UK Global Tariff and what will it mean for my business?

For imports into the UK from countries which don’t have a trade agreement with the UK, the new UK Global Tariff (UKGT) replaced the EU’s Common External Tariff.

It is described by the Government, as a ‘simpler, easier to use and lower tariff regime’ and is aimed at reducing red tape and reducing cost pressures. It will be in pounds rather than euros.

Key features of the UKGT include:

• Removing the Meursing table, which is currently used to determine which tariff code, and therefore how much duty, is applicable to goods when importing them. This will allow the UK to scrap tariff variations on various products including biscuits, pizzas and confectionary.

• Eliminating tariffs on a wide range of products, including products such as copper alloy tubes and screws and bolts which are used in UK production, potentially cutting costs to businesses and consumers.

• Maintaining tariffs on a number of products backing key UK industries, including agriculture, automotive and fishing.

See more about the UKGT.

Use the UK Global Tariff tool to check the tariff that applies to goods you plan to import or export.

The Government is currently gathering feedback on the UKGT. To share your views download and complete the UK Global Tariff feedback form and email it to tariff.monitoring@trade.gov.uk.

 

7. How will business travel to Europe be affected by Brexit?

Rules around travel have changed – you’ll need at least six months left on your passport to travel to most EEA countries.

UK nationals may need a visa, work permit or other documentation to stay in most EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein for longer than 90 days within a 180-day period, or if they plan to:

• transfer from the UK branch of a company to a branch in a different country (‘intra-corporate transfer’), even for a short period of time

• carry out contracts to provide a service to a client in another country in which their employer has no presence

• provide services in another country as a self-employed person.

If you have a paper rather than photocard driving licence you need an International Driving Permit to drive in the EU.

See how to get an International Driving Permit

You’ll also need to display a UK rather than a GB sticker. See more information.

If you are going to provide professional services like legal services on your trip, you’ll need to check that your qualifications are recognised.

See UK Government guidance on travelling to Europe from January 2021 – and check the additional requirements for business travel.

New-style passports started being issued from March 2020, although the process is being phased. If you have an existing passport that has ‘European Union’ printed on the cover, you’ll be able to continue using it until it expires.

See information on passport rules post-Brexit.

If you’re taking goods abroad with you to sell or use for business purposes, you’ll need to make a customs declaration. There is a different process for temporarily taking goods into the EU, for example for a trade show.

See how to make a customs declaration.

See more about temporarily taking goods into the EU.

From 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU for people on UK mobile phone contracts has ended. Travellers will need to check what roaming charges may apply.

 

8. What effect will Brexit have on cards and payments?

The European Payments Council (EPC) has confirmed that the UK will maintain participation in the SEPA geographic scope after 31 December 2020, meaning it will still be possible to send or pay with euros electronically. There will, however, be some extra rules made applicable to transactions, e.g. extra transaction details will need to be provided, such as the payer’s address. Payments may also take longer to process, so it may be a good idea to make transfers well in advance of any payment deadlines.

You may be charged more for using credit or debit cards to pay for things in euros when buying from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. Payments may also take longer to process.

You can get help to manage your payments efficiently with Bank of Scotland Payment Services.

 

9. Do the GDPR regulations still apply to the UK?

The General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force in May 2018, is an EU regulation so technically it no longer applies to the UK after 31 December 2020. 

However, the UK Data Protection Act 2018 implemented GDPR into UK law, and no substantial changes to data protection standards have been made since.

The EU version of GDPR will still cover companies that operate in the EU or have EU residents as customers.

In June 2021, the European Commission adopted two adequacy decisions for the UK - under GDPR and the Law Enforcement Directive. This means personal data can flow freely from the EU to the UK.

In August 2021, the UK government announced plans to reform UK data laws, which could lead to future changes to the UK data protection regime.

Business practices and sectors

 

1. Which sectors have been most affected by Brexit? 

Businesses that trade heavily in goods or services with the EU or that are heavily regulated are likely to be feeling the most significant impact from the changes that came into effect in 2021.

These include agriculture, financial services, food and drink, automotive and chemical engineering - however any impact will depend on an organisation’s own circumstances.

Research by the British Chambers of Commerce, released in April 2021, found that 49% of exporters reported difficulties adapting to changes to trade in goods rules. 

Businesses which employ substantial numbers of staff from the EU or rely on short-term labour from overseas are likely being affected by new visa requirements and the points-based immigration system.

The services industry is likely to be experiencing a significant impact, as under the terms of the deal it lost its guaranteed access to the EU single market, meaning some companies may need to apply to be allowed to operate in specific EU countries.

See guidance for selling services in the EU.

 

2. What is a UK Economic Operator Registration and Identification number and do I have to register for one?

An Economic Operator Registration and Identification, or EORI, number is a unique ID code required by businesses that trade goods with countries outside the EU.

An EORI number is allocated to an importer or exporter by HMRC. It provides information to customs authorities as part of EU security measures on shipments.

You may need an EORI number if you trade goods:

• between Great Britain or the Isle of Man and any other country, including in the EU

• between Great Britain and Northern Ireland

• between Great Britain and the Channel Islands

• between Northern Ireland and countries outside the EU

An EORI number isn’t needed for trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

If you move goods to or from Great Britain you must get an EORI number that starts with GB. 

You may also need an EORI number starting with XI if you move goods to or from Northern Ireland.

See how to get an EORI number

 

3. I import and/or export goods from/to the EU – what new rules do I have to follow?

Businesses in Great Britain trading with the EU now have to make customs declarations as they do when trading with the rest of the world. You’ll also need an EORI number starting with GB.

Find out how to make customs declarations.

Get an EORI number.

Importing and exporting certain goods may also require a special licence or certificate, or you may need to pay an inspection fee before goods are allowed into Great Britain.

See more about import licences, certificates and inspection fees.

See more about export licences and certificates.

Under the terms of the trade deal between the UK and the EU, products which originate in the EU or UK may be eligible for preferential rates of duty. You will have to prove that your goods comply with the rules of origin.

However, there are a number of temporary concessions available to businesses regarding the rules of origin, to help them adjust to new regulations. 

For goods imported from the EU to Great Britain, between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021, British traders will have up to 175 days to submit a full customs declaration and pay any necessary tariffs. This includes declaring any proof of origin.

For UK-EU trade, businesses do not need supplier’s declarations from business suppliers in place when the goods are exported until 31 December 2021. However, they must be confident the goods do meet the rules of origin and may be asked to retrospectively provide a supplier’s declaration. From 1 January 2022, businesses must hold a supplier’s declaration (when needed) at the time they issue a statement on origin.

See more about claiming preferential rates of duty between the UK and EU

Since January 2021, you are able to charge customers 0% VAT on goods you export to the EU. Import VAT and any customs duties may be payable when the goods arrive in the EU.

See more about zero-rated VAT.

The UK Government has also issued updated guidance on changes to how the GB-EU border operates.

In September 2021, a revised timetable for introducing full import controls for goods being imported from the EU to the UK was issued, to give businesses more time to adjust.

Under the new plans, controls will be phased in over the course of 2022.

See the new border operating model.

See the Government’s step-by-step guide to importing goods post-Brexit.

See the Government’s step-by-step guide to exporting goods post-Brexit.

 

4. I trade goods into/out of Northern Ireland – what new rules do I have to follow?

The Northern Ireland Protocol that came into force on 1 January 2021 introduced changes to the way goods move between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

See Government guidance on moving goods in to, out of, or through Northern Ireland.

The UK Government has launched a free Trader Support Service which can help businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or bringing goods into Northern Ireland from outside the UK by raising declarations on their behalf. 

If you trade with Northern Ireland, you’ll need an EORI number that starts with XI.

Sign up to the Trader Support Service.

The Movement Assistance Scheme has been established to help businesses meet new requirements for moving agri-foods, animals, plants and associated products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Under the scheme, traders do not need to pay for some inspections and certificates. 

You can contact the dedicated helpline on 0330 0416 580 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

See more about the Movement Assistance Scheme.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has been a subject of discussion between the UK and EU since it came into force, with the UK government expressing concerns it is causing difficulties in the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and calling for a rethink of the protocol. 

Both the UK government and the European Commission have proposed plans for reducing post-Brexit checks on goods and medicines arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

See the UK government’s proposal (PDF, 243KB)

See the EC’s proposed changes.

While discussions are ongoing, plans for checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland have been suspended indefinitely.

 

5. How have employment rules changed for UK-based EU citizens?

EU nationals who had been living and working in the UK continuously for more than five years were able to apply for ‘settled status’ to remain indefinitely under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).  The deadline for applications was 30 June 2021.

Those who had been in the UK for less than five years were able to apply for ‘pre-settled status’ and will qualify for full settled status once they’ve lived in the UK for five years.

EU citizens living and working in the UK after 30 June who didn’t make an application to the EUSS will not automatically have their rights to work removed straight away. They will be contacted and given the opportunity to apply within a 28-day grace period of receiving a written notice. 

Anyone with Irish citizenship doesn’t have to apply.

Statistics released in July 2021 show that about 6 million people applied to the scheme before the deadline.

From 1 January 2021, a new points-based immigration system has applied. To apply for a skilled worker visa, applicants will have to prove they have a job offer for a position at a required skill level, from an approved employer sponsor. They’ll also need to be able to speak English and earn a minimum salary.

There won’t be an immigration route for lower skilled workers, although the seasonal agricultural visa pilot scheme will be extended.

From 1 July 2021, all new EU, EEA, and Swiss citizen employees must demonstrate their right to work in the UK either with their pre-settled or settled status, or with a relevant UK visa. The Home Office has confirmed there is no need to carry out retroactive Right to Work Checks on existing EU citizen employees.

Learn more about the new points-based immigration scheme.

Apply to be an approved employer sponsor.

For more information see: EU citizens living in Scotland after Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme: employer toolkit.

 

6. How can my business minimise the effect the regulatory changes implemented as a result of Brexit?

Under the terms of the new relationship with the EU, the UK has greater power to establish its own legal and regulatory framework.

However, under the terms of the trade deal, there are a number of level playing field measures which commit both parties to maintaining common standards when it comes to workers’ rights and various other social and environmental standards.

There are also various new regulations around travel, importing and exporting, and employing EU citizens that have come into force now the transition period has ended.

It’s not too late for businesses to take steps to mitigate the effect of these changes. First, if you have not done so already, consider how exposed you are to any risks associated with changes implemented at the end of the transition period and what the effect has been to date. Look at your supply chain, exports, customers and customer demand, stakeholders and workforce.  

The British Chambers of Commerce has put together a Post-Transition Brexit checklist (PDF, 463KB) highlighting key areas to consider, including future staffing requirements and any potential delays at borders. This can help you put in place measures to mitigate the risks, ensuring you have the skills needed, the correct customs documentation and provisions to cope with currency volatility.

The UK Government has launched an interactive tool to help businesses assess if they are ready for new rules and regulations in 2021.

 

7. Who do I need on a business task force to help navigate the new regulations?

If you are finding your business is being affected by the new regulations, you should consider establishing a core team to help you navigate the coming months.

According to the CBI, 82% of large businesses – and a third of firms overall – have set up an internal Brexit task force or steering group to project-manage its implications.

To be most effective, your task force should be made up of representatives from key functions across your business, not just senior management. This includes people who deal with the supply chain, procurement, marketing, sales, governance, HR and financial planning.

Smaller companies that don’t have as many resources may wish to bring on board experts from legal firms and business associations to help them gain a greater understanding of what doing business post-Brexit means for them.

 

8. What are the HR and employee issues I need to consider?

The majority of employment law regulations are enshrined in domestic law, and powers from EU regulations have been brought under UK law in the EU Withdrawal Act, meaning we haven’t seen significant changes to employment laws as a result of Brexit.

However, businesses that employ EU nationals will need to understand the implications of Brexit for workers.

See the EU Settlement Scheme Employer Toolkit on GOV.UK.

If employees need to travel for work purposes, even if just for a few days, you may need to help them apply for the relevant visas and permits.

See guidance on travelling to the EU.

Since 1 January 2021, a new points-based immigration system applies. To apply for a skilled worker visa, applicants have to prove they have a job offer for a position at a required skill level, from an approved employer sponsor. They also need to be able to speak English and earn a minimum salary. It’s advisable that employers wanting to hire from the EU apply to be an approved employer sponsor as soon as possible.

Apply to be an approved employer sponsor.

Learn more about the new points-based immigration scheme.

 

9. My business is with the public sector. What impact is Brexit likely to have on my market?

A new e-notification service called Find a Tender is being used to post and view public sector procurement notices. This replaces the requirement to publish notices in the Official Journal of the European Union.

See guidance on public sector procurement post-Brexit.

Under the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), businesses from other GPA countries will be able to bid for certain procurement opportunities in the UK, but UK businesses will also be able to bid for work in their territories.

See more about procurement under GPA.

Public sector bodies are likely to feel an impact in terms of staffing – there has already been a steep decline in EU applications for nursing positions, for example. These potential issues may have knock-on effects for companies that do business with the public sector.

Strategy

 

1. Which export markets offer the best trade opportunities post-Brexit?

The free trade agreement reached between the UK and the EU means the EU is likely to remain our most significant trading partner.

However, trade negotiations between the UK and various other countries have also been ongoing. The UK has secured a number of ‘continuity’ deals covering more than 50 countries or territories, which took effect on 1 January 2021. These include an agreement with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Mozambique, as well as agreements with Morocco, Georgia, Switzerland and Central America.

In October 2020, the UK signed an economic partnership agreement with Japan which will mean 99% of UK exports to Japan will be free of tariffs.

The UK has also signed mutual recognition agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand. These replicate current EU agreements, meaning that each country will recognise each other’s conformity assessments.

In December 2020, the UK signed trade agreements with Singapore, Mexico and Turkey and in June 2021 an agreement in principle for a trade deal with Australia was reached.

In October 2021, an agreement in principle was agreed with New Zealand.

See more about the UK’s existing trade agreements.

Looking for exporting opportunities? See the Bank of Scotland International Trade portal

 

2. What can I do to protect my business from Brexit?

The first step you may want to take – if you haven’t already done so – is to carry out a Brexit risk assessment to see if your business has any vulnerabilities. This may also uncover opportunities for your business.

Areas to look at include impacts on importing and exporting, your supply chain, taxation, regulation, and your employees.

The British Chambers of Commerce has a Post-Transition Brexit checklist (PDF, 463KB) highlighting areas to consider.

You can then do whatever is possible to mitigate risks: for example, ensuring all your customs documentation is in order, making adjustments to your supply chain, and doing what you can to retain your EU employees.

You could also consider exploring alternative banking solutions if we are unable to provide you with banking products or services. You will already have been contacted if this is the case. 

The Government has launched an interactive tool to help businesses assess if they are ready for new rules coming in 2021.

See the Government’s Brexit checker tool.

 

3. The European Regional Development Fund has invested heavily in the UK, what is going to happen now?

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will continue to participate in programmes financed by the current EU budget until their closure.

According to the Government, this means the majority of programmes will continue to receive funding across their lifetime, in many cases, even after 31 December 2020.

Supply chain and delivery

 

1. How can I minimise delays when supplying goods?

The best way to minimise any delays is to ensure that any customs paperwork is completed correctly and submitted in advance.

See the steps you need to take to export goods to the EU

Get an EORI number.

See the Government’s new Border Operating Model.

 

2. Does my business still have to meet EU safety standards for goods?

To be sold on the EU market, many products have to meet safety standards set out in EU regulations. The CE mark is used on certain goods to show that they meet these standards.

CE marking will continue to be required for products being sold in the EU.

Find out how to use the CE marking.

For goods being sold in Great Britain, the new UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking came into effect on 1 January 2021, however, to give businesses time to adjust, in the majority of cases businesses can still use the CE marking until 1 January 2023.

There are different rules for placing goods on the market in Northern Ireland. See guidance.

The technical requirements products must meet – and the conformity assessment processes and standards that can be used to demonstrate conformity – will be largely the same as they were pre-Brexit.

See more about using the UKCA marking.

 

Finance and Investments

 

1. What will be the likely impact of Brexit on cross-border mergers and acquisitions for businesses?

Levels of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity are difficult to predict. On the one hand, possible divergence between the UK and the EU around anti-trust laws over time, two separate competition supervisory bodies to be cleared, and generally volatile markets, are all likely to decrease activity.

However, currency fluctuations (notably a weaker pound) and the desire by businesses to establish new geographical bases could see a rise in tactical M&A activity. Share price volatility can also trigger opportunities for some aggressive bids.

Due diligence is expected to take longer post-Brexit, and mergers and acquisitions could be subject to parallel processes.

Corporate restructuring within a group of companies that crosses borders is expected to become more complex too.

 

2. What support is available from Bank of Scotland to help with Brexit?

You can talk to your Relationship Manager or Business Relationship Team for support around financial planning.

For support widening trade beyond the EU you can make use of a range of resources on our International Trade Portal.

While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information provided is correct, no liability is accepted by Bank of Scotland for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission. This is for information only and should not be relied upon as offering advice for any set of circumstances.  Specific advice should always be sought in each instance.