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Changes to the Border Operating Model

The Government has announced an extension to the deadlines for Phases 2 and 3 of the Border Operating Model, dealing with the post transitional border arrangements, originally due to take place in April and July, and the introduction of checks and customs declarations on imports to the UK from the EU.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said the delays to the deadlines were in response to businesses making “a strong case that they need more time to prepare” and because the impact and disruption as a result of COVID had been more extensive and longer lasting than anticipated.

Most import checks have now been pushed back to 1 January 2022, meaning the UK will begin these processes a year later than the EU. Businesses would be advised to use this further time wisely to continue training and preparations to meet their additional administrative requirements of customs, excise, import VAT or safety and security declarations. The extension to the deadlines could also have wider implications for port operators who have already contracted with third parties to have the necessary infrastructure in place for the network of 30 border control posts (“BCP”).

Border Operating Model

The Border Operating Model set out the UK’s post transitional border arrangements with the EU from 1 January 2021 and provides guidelines on the processes and systems in respect of goods moving between the UK and EU.

In June 2020 the Government announced a phased approach over the first 6 months of 2021 to import controls on goods moving from the EU to the UK giving importers time to adjust. Import declarations for all standard goods could be deferred for up to six months from the date of importation.

Extensions to the Model

From 1 April 2021 new but limited Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) controls, which have been applied to goods imported from the EU including live animals and high risk plants and plant products from 1 January 2021, were to be expanded to cover administrative requirements. This included pre-notification of imports and health certificates for all products of animal origin, as well as regulated plant and plant materials.

Under the revised timetable several of the key dates for implementation of new controls have been delayed. The key changes are as follows:

Animals and Products of Animal Origin (POAO)

  • Pre-notification and export health certification for POAO will not be required until 1 October 2021 – previously this was 1st April 2021.
  • Physical checks for POAO at BCPs will not take place until 1 January 2022 – previously 1st July 2021.
  • Physical checks on live animals at BCPs put back to March 2022 (currently they are taking place at destination based on risk assessments) – previously 1st July 2021.

Plant and plant products

  • Phytosanitary certificates and pre-notification will not be required for regulated plants and plant products (including fruit, vegetables and cut flowers) until 1 January 2022 – previously 1 April 2021.
  • Physical inspections on regulated plants and plant products at authorised BCPs come into force on 1 March 2022 – previously 1 July 2021.
  • Physical inspections for high priority plants and plant products (including plants for planting, some seed, ware potatoes, some wood and wood products and used agricultural machinery) will take place at BCPs from 1 January 2022 – previously 1 July 2021. Until then inspections will continue to take place at authorised places of destination and phytosanitary certificates will continue to be required for high priority plants and plant products and pre-notification.
  • Introduction of inspection fees for EU imports of high priority plants has been postponed until 1 June 2021 – previously 1 April 2021.


  • Customs import declarations will still be required, but the option to use the deferred declaration scheme, including submitting supplementary declarations up to six months after the goods have been imported, has been extended to 1 January 2022 – previously 1 July 2022.
  • Safety and Security Declarations for imports will not be required until 1 January 2022.
  • Traders moving controlled goods, such as alcohol, tobacco, hydrocarbon oil and certain products of animal origin into the UK will continue to be ineligible for the deferred customs declaration approach. They will therefore be required to complete a full customs declaration when the goods enter the UK.
  • UK goods entering the EU already face full border controls and full declarations are required as the EU did not adopt a phased approach to border control


The new systems need to be effectively communicated both to UK importers and EU suppliers.

Recent press reports also indicated that a network of 30 BCPs being built to process incoming goods would not have been ready by the original timeline of 1 July 2021 and several inland facilities being built by the Government where there is insufficient space next to the port were also said to be running behind schedule. However the Chief Executive of UK Major Ports Group has commented that a delay to the previous border controls was unnecessary and port operators may have to look at the implications of the delay to contracts concluded with third parties to have the necessary infrastructure in place for the original deadline.

Robert Keen the Director General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) has warned that the deferred declaration scheme brings a danger of non- compliance. The Chief Executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has commented that they cannot be confident operators will be ready at the end of the extension period on 1 October 2021 because “the number of skilled customs agents and veterinarians in place across the EU to complete the necessary documentation still falls short of what’s needed”

Businesses would therefore be advised to use this further time wisely to continue training and preparations to meet their additional administrative requirements of customs, excise, import VAT or safety and security declarations.

How can we help?

If you have any questions relating to the new formalities as a result of the new trading relationship between UK and EU in particular, terms and conditions and your obligations, limitations of liability and transfer of risk in the goods or the implications of the extended deadline to any contracts entered into with third parties for the construction of infrastructure for BCPs please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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