More than half of businesses that trade with the United Kingdom have not registered for customs and will not be able to move goods in and out of Britain if Brexit happens next week, the Revenue Commissioners has warned.
Stepping up its public awareness campaign on Brexit preparations, Revenue said traders and companies must register for customs if they want to continue trading with the UK should it leave the European Union next week.
Construction and manufacturing companies are among those who have been least proactive in preparing for the Brexit crash-out, according to a Revenue official.
Britain is due to exit at 11pm on Friday, April 12th, unless the EU and UK agree to delay again the “article 50” exit process. The UK wants a further delay, to June 30th, while the EU has proposed a year-long extension.
The Government and various State agencies are still working on the basis that the UK will exit the economic bloc at the end of next week, leading to a surge in the volume of custom checks and food and animal health inspections that will have to be carried out on imports from and exports to Britain.
Fewer than half of the 84,000 Irish businesses that trade with the UK have signed up for customs registration numbers that will be required to continue trading with the UK after it becomes a “third county” post-Brexit.
“If businesses haven’t stepped into the customs procedures world yet, they are not going to be moving anything by next Saturday,” said Lynda Slattery, head of the Revenue’s Brexit policy unit.
There was still time for businesses to apply for the required “economic operator registration identification” or EORI number online and to decide whether the companies themselves were going to complete customs declarations forms themselves or use outside customs clearance agents, she said.
The Revenue’s efforts are focused on east-west trade between Ireland and Britain and have not addressed north-south trade across the Border as these matters were still being addressed “in the political space”, said a spokeswoman.
Revenue “does not comment on political matters”, she said.
Customs officials do not expect disruptions to food and supermarket supply chains that source products from the UK because the large chains have in-house customs teams, said Ms Slattery.
She recognised that many businesses were reluctant to spend on preparing for Brexit because of the political uncertainty around the timing and manner of the exit, or whether it would actually happen, but she questioned whether traders could afford not to prepare given the potential impact Brexit might have.
“I can absolutely understand the concern on the business side because of the uncertainty that is still there. My question is: will they make this decision [to prepare] if this happens at 11pm on the 12th?” she said.
Ms Slattery said Revenue had identified “a potential pinch-point” around the shortage of customs clearance agents to help businesses cope with the expected multimillion surge in customs declarations forms.
“Companies can do this work themselves. The software is available: they can buy that,” she said.
She warned businesses that their lorries will not be permitted to board ferries at Dublin or Rosslare Ports, the State’s two main transit points to Britain, if they did not have a customs movement number.
Trucks will be turned away from the ferry terminals at the port if they “rock up to the port” and do not have evidence of a so-called movement reference number either a paper copy or on a phone, she said.
Ferry companies have agreed with Revenue that they will not permit lorries and other goods vehicles to board UK-bound ships if the drivers are not carrying the relevant proof of documentation.
“If it’s at that point that whoever owns the goods realises there is going to be a problem, there is going to be fallout for the business,” said Ms Slattery.
Dublin Port, which accounts for 90 per cent of the road freight traffic with the UK, had “a significant raft of sites available” where the customs control and physical inspections if required will take place.