Short read

BTOM breakdown: Your checklist for 31 January

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

The new border rules could cause a major fresh fruit fiasco. Credit: Getty/Studio1222
The new border rules could cause a major fresh fruit fiasco. Credit: Getty/Studio1222

Related tags Food security Trade Regulation

This Wednesday 31 January 2024 will see the UK roll out the first stage of its new border rules – here’s what you need to know and why so businesses are worried...

After multiple delays, the UK Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) will finally come into force, imposing new rules that will impact the movement of certain goods coming into the UK from the EU.

This marks a significant moment for food and drink operators in the UK, as the first stage begins later this week (31 January).

While BTOM looks to improve the flow of trade – with the Cabinet Office estimating it could save UK businesses £520m a year – there remains concerns that companies both sides of the border aren’t prepared. As such, this could have a real knock-on effect on UK’s incoming supply of food and drink products.

The current border system and concerns over changes

Currently, goods from the EU enter the UK without certification and checks, apart from those required for the highest risk items. The BTOM will introduce proportionate controls on animal and plant products that will protect the agri-food sector and public health.

The hope is that the changes (which come into effect from end of January onwards, with April and October 2024 seeing additional rules enforced) will streamline the UK border process, whilst maintaining safety and quality.

“Since Brexit, we effectively haven’t had a border. The BTOM has been delayed five times which has caused significant anxiety and cost money,” ​Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade said at a press conference last Thursday (25 Jan).

He continued: “More than 70% of the businesses with whom we have spoken remain concerned about potential teething problems. Issues which will impact prices and availability.

“UK businesses and those trading in the UK can help mitigate issues by ensuring they prepare for these changes. Businesses need to make sure they are communicating with all of their supply chain now.

“Every effort needs to be taken to ensure that everybody, typically those businesses in the EU, know what they need to do, so we don’t see significant impact of prices going up, the expansion of shrinkflation or supply issues of products going into UK market.”

However, while companies should be getting prepared and can in some ways, they can be forgiven for a lack of readiness as a result of the complexity and vagueness around the new rules.

As Forgione added, the Government needs to play its part and ensure that it provides a clear timetable of implementation that remains unchanged.

What’s changing on 31 January?

Tomorrow (31 January 2024) may see one or several changes to the way your business must operate, depending on your model. For example, discrepancies between importers from the island of Ireland and importers of SPS will see you impacted by different rules. 

Customs Declaration System

Among the raft of new regulations, the HMRC’s Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system will be replaced by the Customs Declaration System (CDS).

All import declarations are already being made on the CDS, with the last day for making export declarations on CHIEF 30 March 2024. From this date, all businesses should declare goods through the CDS.

We will also see the removal of the 999L waiver code on imports this 31 January and for exports this will happen one year later (31 Jan 2025).

What is 999L waiver code?

“Products with potential Prohibition & Restriction measures have specific Document Codes assigned to them, one to confirm that a restriction applies (and would generally need a licence or certificate to prove this), or a separate one which confirms that the specific measure does not apply. The 999L waiver code allows declarants (importer or intermediary) to make a statement to HMRC that goods which are being imported or exported are not subject to any P&R measures, rather than using the specific Document Code,”​ Anna Doherty, senior trade & customs specialist and chair of the Joint Customers Consultative Committee, outlined at the conference.

Doherty explained that some declarants are continuing to use 999L, despite the deadline approaching. And while declarations can still be pre lodged with 999L, if they arrive after 31 Jan 2024 they will be rejected. This means the vehicles carrying them will be routed to Inland Border Facility pending the resolution of the issue.

Offering details on how this will impact food and drink producers, Doherty said: “SPS measures are type of a P&R measure in that they need a Document Code – at the moment, 999L can be used but from 31 Jan 2024 specific SPS Doc Code and CHED Reference number from IPAFFS will need to be entered for low and medium risk goods (plus EHC attached to the IPAFFS prenotification for medium risk goods).”

Island of Ireland changes

From January, there will be full custom processes on goods arriving from the island of Ireland. This will include customs declarations and the use of GVMS (good vehicle movement service) or inventory systems where necessary. 

Goods will need to complete import processes if they are being imported directly from Ireland into Great Britain (not moving from or through Northern Ireland). Meanwhile, goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain through Irish ports will have to complete import processes if they are non-qualifying Northern Ireland goods, excise goods (alcohol, tobacco, and energy products), or goods which do not move directly to an Irish port once they have left Northern Ireland, for example goods which are held in storage in Ireland.

This also means that Ro-Ro movements (roll on, roll off) through GVMS ports, such as Dublin to Holyhead, will require a pre-lodged import declaration before the shipment leaves the island of Ireland, unless the importer is authorised for simplified declaration processes, or they use an intermediary with this kind of authorisation.

As Doherty explained, these changes will require that pre-lodged import declarations must be validated while the goods are en route; any issues with the declaration will result in driver being instructed to attend an in-land border facility (IBF), leading to potential delays.

A goods movement reference (GMR) will need to be in place before goods depart from Ireland, otherwise the driver will not be able to board a ferry arriving at GVMS ports.

The ‘no declaration required’ option in GVMS will be used to facilitate the free movement of Qualifying NI Goods (QNIGs) which have started their journey in Northern Ireland before being moved to Great Britain, passing through Ireland.

Goods which are moved from Ireland to Great Britain, including Northern Ireland goods, will need to comply with Irish customs requirements on exit.

SPS changes

This Wednesday will also see the introduction of pre-notification and export health certifications (EHC) for medium risk animal products, plants, plant products.

Low risk will require pre notification (CHED Part 1 through IPAFFS – an online platform which has replaced PEACH. This system allows importers and exports to notify authorities in GB that goods are on their way). No EHC will be required for low-risk products, meaning that information which would normally be included on the EHC will need to be obtained by the importer from the exporter separately.

Meanwhile, high risk products will continue to require pre-notification, EHC and inspections.

To add further complications, it was announced last week that a range of European fruit and vegetables are to be recategorised from low risk to medium risk – thus necessitating physical inspections at UK border posts.

It’s also worth noting that pre-notification is required 24 hours before the goods arrive in the UK, but this can only be initiated once the export formalities are completed in the EU.

The EU will still use its own online platform TRACES, but Great Britain EHCs have only just become available on this platform – and with limited translations available. The availability of certifiers in individual EU Members States is also limited which can lead to delays in obtaining EHC.

The advanced notification ruling has many businesses fretting, however. In a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Barclay, the SPS Certification Working group – which represents 30 trade bodies – expressed the impractical nature of the new rules.

“GB’s requirement for one working day prenotification is unfeasible for just in time supply to GB of perishable short shelf life fresh foods/ingredients arriving from the EU,”​ the letter read. “A one day delay to exportation can mean a 20% loss of shelf life, ultimately rendering the food unsaleable.

“EU suppliers will not be commercially able to lose this time so are expected to decide to take commercial decisions whether or not to continue to try to supply GB, especially when taking into account certification and other new administration costs.”

The letter highlighted a further 15 more concerns around the new rules, alongside these fears on shelf life.

Future dates for BTOM changes

The 31 January 2024 is only the first stage of changes, and as mentioned above, April and October will see further rules coming into effect.

On 30 April 2024, animals and animal-based products from EU/the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and plant and plant products from EU, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, will see the introduction of documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks, including entry through appropriately designated Border Control Posts (except island of Ireland) for medium risk products.

However, we have yet to receive an updated map of Border Control Posts (BCP) which will confirm which types of goods are handled at which locations. Moreover, the frequency of ID and physical checks per product category has not been established, nor has the connectivity between related border systems been checked. This could also pose issues for changes scheduled in April and October.

Then, from 31 October 2024, we will see Safety and Security Declarations for imports into Great Britain from the EU (and other territories where the waiver applies) coming into force alongside reduced dataset for customs declaration.

We may also see documentation and risk-based identify and physical checks being imposed on goods from island of Ireland on the 31 October. That’s still an unknown, however, as all that has been stated is it will happen no earlier than 31 October. 

It all seems rather confusing, but Forgione reassured guidance is available: “It is vital that businesses affected by these changes are aware of what is happening, when, and what the impact to them will be. Small firms we have spoken to have reported mixed levels of awareness and understanding. The good news is there is guidance and support out there. But the time to make the most of that guidance is now.”

With the deadline tomorrow, however, and many unanswered questions remaining, it does feel as though the industry has been hung out to dry.

Commenting on this, Mike Parr, director of PML Seafrigo, said the constant change in goal posts have left the industry in turmoil. 

"The UK is becoming a laughing stock and many producers are simply not interested in working within its ever-changing logistics landscape,"​ he contended. "And at a time when the whole nation is being encouraged to engage in a healthier lifestyle which includes eating more fresh fruit and vegetables – in part to ease the burden on the NHS – these very items are likely to become less available and more expensive.

"PML Seafrigo is prepared and ready for the new inspection regime and we have the capability to offload problematic shipments at our Kent Border Control Post. But we – like others – can only be effective if our questions are answered and if decisions taken are adhered to.

"To say we are frustrated is an understatement." 

Related topics Supply Chain

Related news

Show more

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast