Selling goods into Northern Ireland – new “export” rules

This blog was written by our Tax Partner, Alastair Wilson.

Do you sell goods into Northern Ireland (remember, that’s in the UK)?  There are new “export” rules coming, which you need to comply with.

My “remember that’s in the UK” comes from (a) me being Northern Irish but living in England and (b) this is the only part of the UK where sales of goods from one part to the other will require you to fill out extra forms and paperwork to report what is going where. 

It is not really exporting as the goods are staying in the UK, and the Government don’t want to refer to it as exporting because it sounds like a border exists within the UK. However, Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK where you will have to complete these additional processes from 1 January 2021 because you are shipping goods to/from another part of the UK. The processes will be administered by HMRC and Border Force (but remember it is not a border)!


Let me give you some examples of things you’ll need to check in more detail in the future:

  1. You sell craft beer online – your customer buys from you online and you note they are in Newcastle.  The postcode starts with BT, not NE.   
  2. You make food manufacturing equipment and your customer is a factory in Bangor but you aren’t sure if that is Bangor, Wales or Bangor, Northern Ireland.
  3. You have been asked to ship some medical devices to Strathearn.  So, do you need an Appointed Representative for that from 2021?  Is that the Northern Irish or the Scottish Strathearn? 
  4. You make camera equipment and you have been asked to ship goods to Holywood – your sales person says the accent of the person who ordered definitely wasn’t English and might have been American. 

These are flippant examples, particularly the last one, but in each case from 1 January 2021 you will have to complete paperwork that you currently don’t have to. As the processes are administered by HMRC and Border Force, there will be delays in your order reaching your customer (at best) if you don’t.

What is happening and why?

Put simply, the Northern Ireland Protocol (which is the fudge agreed between the UK and the EU to leave Northern Ireland half in and half out of the Brexit process in terms of customs) requires that businesses shipping goods to Northern Ireland have to complete new declarations (and comply with other requirements) for those goods from 1 January 2021.  These declarations do not apply to shipping goods to any other part of the UK.


Guidance issued this week by the UK Government states:

The Protocol entails some new administrative processes for traders, notably new digital import declaration requirements, and digital safety and security information, for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. These processes, which will be administered by UK authorities in the form of HMRC and Border Force, are needed to make sure that tariffs are not paid on trade within the UK, that Northern Ireland can benefit from UK FTAs, and that goods destined for Ireland and the EU (i.e. at a genuine and substantial risk of doing so) pay tariffs when they should.

The guidance is still a work in progress as the detail of the new digital import declaration requirements and digital safety and security information processes are still being finalised. There is going to be a Government funded support service which (at least initially) will help to support completion of the administration at no cost to the businesses involved. The support service is called the Trader Support Service. You can pre-register your business as being interested in receiving support (remember – it will be free).

The guidance issued by HMRC so far is lengthy and covers a range of sectors.

Manufacturers and sellers of agrifoods should note that there are sections specific to these sectors.

Our advice

Firstly, read the guidance and see if there are any changes to how you will do business with customers in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, if you have existing customers in Northern Ireland, registering for the Trader Support Service is probably a good idea!

Contact us

For further advice, please contact Alastair Wilson at