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26 September 2019

Brex­it and Cus­toms

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will be treated as a third country, which will have a significant impact on the movement of goods between the UK and the EU. The German government and the German customs administration are thoroughly prepared for this scenario.

Half of a Union Jack and the sketch of the European stars.
Source:  Federal Ministry of Finance

A no-deal Brexit would not be good. The British people themselves will likely be hit the hardest if this happens. But we mustn’t have any illusions: a no-deal Brexit would have an impact on Germany too. Trade could be delayed by new customs duties and additional customs controls. But we can have confidence in German customs even if these more difficult circumstances come to pass. Our customs authorities are very well prepared for all possible scenarios. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz

German customs is thoroughly prepared

The German customs administration is taking detailed measures to prepare for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. This includes steps to ensure that customs has the materials and staffing it needs to perform its functions if a no-deal Brexit occurs. The German government wants to make sure that the movement of goods can continue to run smoothly – especially at major international seaports and airports – even under the conditions of a no-deal Brexit.

The clearance of goods is a routine task for German customs. But if a no-deal Brexit occurs, one of Germany’s largest trading partners will suddenly have third-country status. The resulting re-introduction of customs duties, formalities and controls would add significant procedural hurdles to trade with the UK. But German customs is well-prepared for such an eventuality.

Strength in numbers: 710 additional customs officers are ready for Brexit

To prepare for Brexit, German customs has significantly beefed up staffing. The current federal budget authorises funding for 900 additional positions. By 1 August 2019, a total of 620 customs officers had been assigned to Germany’s main customs offices to work specifically in areas affected by Brexit. In addition, about 90 extra customs officers have been temporarily assigned to the customs offices that are expected to be most heavily affected by Brexit: the primary focus here is on the cargo airports in Leipzig, Frankfurt, Cologne and Munich, and on the Hamburg seaport. These additional staff members will help to ensure service-oriented, economically efficient customs clearance procedures. In addition to training junior staff, German customs will be hiring new employees in all relevant areas of its operations.

Using IT and flexible staffing arrangements to optimise customs clearance: a “Brexit pool”

To cope with the extra work that would be caused by a no-deal Brexit, German customs is planning additional measures. These include placing a temporary priority on critical tasks and facilitating these efforts through the flexible deployment of staff and through the IT-supported optimisation of clearance procedures. To this end, the Central Customs Authority has set up a “Brexit pool” that will enable customs authorities to respond flexibly to the quantitative and localised impacts of Brexit. The pool establishes eight regions for all of Germany. The main customs offices in these regions will use ATLAS, the customs administration’s automated clearance system, to provide each other with mutual support in clearance procedures. This IT-based support system has already undergone inter-office testing, and staff members have received the necessary training and technical equipment.

Outreach and information for businesses

The challenges that Brexit poses cannot be met by the customs administration alone. Businesses must make preparations as well. To raise the business community’s awareness of the impending changes, informational events on “Brexit and customs” were held in seven German cities nationwide and attended by a total of approximately 1,500 people. Regular communication continues to take place between the Central Customs Authority and economic operators, especially postal and express service providers.

In particular, economic operators that actively engage in trade with the UK and that wish to continue to do so are urged to prepare for Brexit and given information on customs formalities for the trade in goods with third countries. In addition, the customs administration’s website provides businesses with extensive information, including links to Brexit-related guidelines published by the European Commission and the United Kingdom.