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UK will phase in border checks on EU goods after transition to help businesses amid COVID-19 crisis

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EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and the UK's Brexit negotiator David Frost in Brussels on March 2, 2020
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and the UK's Brexit negotiator David Frost in Brussels on March 2, 2020   -   Copyright  OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL / AFP
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The UK announced it will enforce border checks with the EU in a gradual way when the Brexit transition period expires in order to stem the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

"Recognising the impact of coronavirus on businesses’ ability to prepare [...] the UK has taken the decision to introduce the new border controls in three stages up until 1 July 2021. This flexible and pragmatic approach will give industry extra time to make necessary arrangements," a government statement obtained by Euronews reads.

A three-step strategy

From January 2021, traders importing "standard goods", from clothes to electronics, will need to prepare for only "basic customs requirements", such as "keeping sufficient records of imported goods", and will be able to complete customs declarations up to six months later.

Tariffs will still need to be paid on all imports, but the payment "can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made", the government said.

Checks on controlled goods like alcohol and tobacco will stay, as well as on all "high-risk live animals and plants".

From April 2021, all products of animal origin and "all regulated plants and plant products" will also require "pre-notification and the relevant health documentation".

From July 2021, all goods will have to be declared and the relevant tariffs paid.

"Full safety and security declarations will be required", while for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) commodities "there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples".

The British Chambers of Commerce told Euronews businesses will welcome this new "pragmatic approach", adding that many companies were "shocked when the government insisted that it would be imposing full checks and bureaucracy from day one – deal or no deal".

"The very last thing ministers should seek to do is to pile new compliance costs on trading firms, who are already dealing with higher costs and lower revenues due to the coronavirus crisis.", the organisation stated.

New Brexit talks set for Monday while the UK keeps ruling out transition extension

It's a change of strategy for the UK government, which had outlined in February its plans for the introduction of border checks on EU goods after 31 December 2020.

If the UK does soften border checks it is unclear whether the EU would do the same with imported British goods.

EU Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said that "the issue was not particularly discussed " during his virtual meeting with UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove on Friday, adding just that the "EU will continue to fully protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union".

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen are scheduled to meet on Monday in an effort to break the deadlock of the post-Brexit trade talks.

The UK is still tied to EU rules for the duration of the transition period, but the two sides need to agree on their future relationship before the transition ends, or risk ending up in a "no-deal" scenario, which both the UK and the EU said they want to avoid.

The transition period could be extended, but this must be approved by July 1.

The UK has repeatedly ruled out it will take such a step, while the EU remains open to the extension, Šefčovič said on Friday.