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Life after Brexit: key changes for businesses

With negotiations rumbling on past the original deadline this weekend, it remains to be seen whether or not a deal can be reached between the UK and the EU over Brexit.

One thing is clear though, whatever happens, life is changing for businesses and people in the UK.

If you’re a business owner and haven’t yet acted, here is a short summary of the key things you need to consider:

  1. Importing from and exporting to the EU

All businesses who import and export goods to and from the EU need to make customs declarations (as you may already do if you import goods from the rest of the world).  This can be done directly or via an agent.  You will also need to check if new rules apply to the goods you are importing and exporting.  Licences and certificates will be needed for some goods and you may also need to revise your labelling for food, agricultural products such as plants and seeds and manufactured goods.  There are also new rules for importing and exporting alcohol, tobacco and certain oils.  The UK Global Tariff will replace the existing common external tariff so the price you pay to import goods may change and from 1st January you can charge 0% VAT on most goods you export to the EU.

From 1 January 2021 you will now need an EORI number to move goods between the UK and EU and are also likely to need a separate number to move goods to/from Northern Ireland (unless you only trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland or only provide services).

Businesses should also check if they are able to complete any elements of the process in advance to speed up importing/exporting goods and make sure that the businesses they are importing from/exporting to in the EU are ready as well.

  1. Moving goods to/from Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Protocol comes into force on 1st January and the UK Government has created a free guide and support service for businesses who import goods to Northern Ireland or move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The free Trader Support Service is compulsory for businesses who wish to continue to move goods in or out of Northern Ireland from 1st January and you can register your company here.  The Trader Support Service will raise declarations on your behalf and the website also provides training and guidance.

  1. Travelling to the EU

Travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein will change from 1 January 2021.  All travellers should check that:

  • Their passport has more than six months left on it and is less than ten years old
  • They have travel insurance which includes healthcare and EHIC cards will no longer be valid
  • You have a return/onward ticket and enough money for your stay as you may be required to prove this
  • You have a visa if you need one (this may apply if you are working, studying or want to stay for an extended period of time)

There will be restrictions on items taken into these countries with meat and milk not being permitted and certificates will be needed for certain plants and plant products.

You will need a GB sticker and ‘green card’ if you are taking your own vehicle abroad and may also need an international driving permit in some countries.

There are also changes to the rules around taking pets abroad and it is possible that the existing arrangements around free mobile roaming may change too.

Business travellers will need to check the specific entry requirements for the country they are visiting as these will vary.  You should also check that your qualifications are recognised in the EU if, for example, you are providing professional services.

You may need to inform HMRC that you are working in the EU and social security payments may be due in the country you are working in.  Businesses should double check that their insurances (including indemnity insurance) cover working in the EU and check that all documents are in place if you are planning to take goods to the EU.

  1. Living and working in the EU

For UK citizens who are planning to live and work in the EU, there is an online tool to support and provide guidance depending on the country you are in.  Click here for more information.

  1. EU citizens staying in the UK 

EU citizens who wish to stay in the UK after 31 December 2020 will usually need to apply to stay in the country. Most people will already have gone through this process however if you have any EU employees in this country who haven’t already applied to continue living here you can point them towards the online government tool to help them with the process.  Click here for the link.

EU citizens already living in the UK have until 31st December to apply for settled status.  From 2021, anyone wanting to work in the UK will need to apply under a new points-based system for work visas.  Other visas including Start-Up, Innovator and Global Talent will also be available. 

  1. GDPR

Your business will still need to comply with the requirements of the EU GDPR, albeit they will become known as the UK GDPR and contained within the Data Protection Act 2018 and Data Protection Regulations 2019.  There should be relatively little change in terms of data transfers out of the UK, but data transfers from the EU into the UK are likely to change significantly. If you are UK based but still trade with or monitor data of individuals in an EEA state you will still have obligations under the EU GDPR and may need to appoint a representative in the EEA to act on your behalf.  Your policies and website (and possibly your data processing agreements) will need updating to reflect these changes.

  1. Intellectual Property

Protecting your IP is a critical part of your business as it is likely to be a significant asset.  From 1 January 2021 there will be a number of changes in relation to IP including:

  • You, or your UK trade mark representatives, may need to work with or appoint an EU-based representative to support your existing EU trade mark and design portfolio
  • EU trade marks no longer covering the UK, but the automatic creation of ‘comparable’ UK trade marks to ensure continuity of protection
  • Creation of design rights in the UK where a registered community design is already held

The European Patent Office (EPO) is not an EU agency so leaving the EU will not therefore affect the current system of European patents.  For copyright, most UK copyright will remain protected in the UK and EU.

Specialist advice should be sought to ensure that all elements of your IP have been protected in all relevant countries.

For all the latest Government advice on Brexit, please visit the following links:



Northern Ireland


Living and working in the EU

EU Citizens in the UK


For support and advice on ensuring your company is compliant and can continue to trade strongly with EU countries, contact Iain Garfield (iain.garfield@bpe.co.uk or 01242 248246).


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. 

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