Future Brexit measures are storing up disruption, think tank warns

By on 25/03/2021 | Updated on 26/03/2021
Put your hard hat on: the government must prepare for future disruption caused by Brexit provisions that have yet to be implemented, experts warn. Credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street/Flickr

The British government must prepare for future disruption that is being “stored up” over a range of Brexit measures that are still to come into force, a think tank has warned.

Britain’s “transition period” out of the EU ended on 31December 2020, over four years after the referendum that saw the country vote to leave the bloc. A ‘Trade and Co-operation Agreement’, signed just days before the end of the transition period, then came into effect.

But in a paper published on Wednesday, researchers from the Institute for Government (IfG) warn that changes to border controls and regulations, new requirements for EU citizens in the UK, and the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol all pose problems down the road.

Northern Ireland protocol

The “most urgent” problem for the government is to successfully implement the Northern Ireland Protocol, the researchers say. This was agreed between the UK and the EU to avoid border checks between the province and the rest of the island of Ireland.

The protocol involves continuing to implement EU law in Northern Ireland. “Grace periods” were included to give businesses and the government time to get ready – but in March this year, the UK effectively unilaterally extended them, the authors note.

“This latest move has severely strained UK-EU relations and alienated the Irish government,” the paper warns. “The protocol will only work with co-operation… the government should work constructively with the EU to find mutually acceptable and sustainable solutions.”

Border controls

The government has also delayed introducing full import controls on goods at the British border, saying that the pandemic had affected business preparations. Indeed, import controls will only apply in full from January 2022.

“The government’s decision to delay import controls again buys more time for businesses to prepare,” the paper said. But this shifting timeline could create problems when the checks do come in. The government must work to convince businesses that the new deadline is real and ensure they prepare for it, the paper says.

One potential problem raised in the report, for example, is that businesses currently have the option to defer declarations on imports for six months until the end of 2021. But “there already are concerns some firms have misunderstood the nature of this easement, importing goods without keeping the internal records they will need to comply at a later date,” the IfG researchers warn.


The government has pushed back the roll-out of some new regulatory requirements too. For example, UK officials currently still recognise the “CE” marking that indicates compliance with EU standards, and will do so until the end of the year.

But, the paper warns, while business has been broadly in favour of delaying implementation, the delay creates “a complex timetable of further Brexit changes that firms must continue to prepare for well into 2022 and beyond”. The government must “continue to communicate with affected sectors about the changes to come, and work quickly to resolve outstanding uncertainty about new regulatory regimes.”

Settled status

EU citizens who were living in Britain before January need to apply for a new “settled status” to remain lawfully in the country, and the “grace period” for gaining this status ends in June.

“The government has no way of knowing what proportion of eligible people have registered, and there is a real risk that many will not do so in time, including many vulnerable individuals,” the paper highlights.

The grace period also disallows businesses from asking EU employees to prove their right to work in the UK, opening up a risk of legal issues shortly after the period ends.

“These issues are too important to be left to the last minute; the government needs to set out a plan for how it will manage the end of the EU settled status scheme grace period,” the IfG researchers say.

Research group UK in a Changing Europe is undertaking interviews with key players from government during Brexit to record how Britain’s exit from the EU was shaped. You can catch up on our features about what the interviews reveal on the following links:

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