International transport from 1 January 2021: still unclear

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International transport from 1st January 2020 remains unclear.

So, how can international goods and passenger operators lawfully operate outside the UK and within the EU from 1 January 2021? In short, we don’t yet know. It may resolve itself. It may not. Some areas are clearer than others.

Market access

Access to the European market is vital for the movement of goods and passengers. Currently, international goods and passenger operators enjoy a simple and frictionless licensing system: they hold a Standard International Licence for whatever fleet size is required and community authorisations for vehicles that gives the ability to move freely within EU countries. (This ‘EU Community Licence’ will be replaced by a ‘UK Licence for the Community’ from 1 January 2021.)

What happens from 1 January 2021 will depend on the outcome of the ‘deal’ between the UK and the EU. This market access for operators is wrapped within the final outcome – not separate. So, possession of a UK Licence for the Community does not yet mean operators can lawfully operate within or from the EU.

So what happens if no ‘deal’ is reached? How can UK operators lawfully exit the UK? At the recent Logistics UK Brexit conference a Cabinet Office spokesman intimated that it was unlikely that it would be necessary for operators to fall back on ‘permits’ in order to carry out their international operations. This is a reference to ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport) permits, a separate non-EU system that sits underneath the EU licence system, in some ways redundant. If correct, this would be good news: there are only about 2,000 vehicle permits for an international fleet of about 38,000 vehicles. The alternative would be some other form of mutual recognition of licences. With less than a month to go, international operators still do not know where they stand.


As the UK has left the Customs Union a large amount of red tape will be introduced, amounting to millions of transactions. Businesses who have historically traded with the EU will not have had to carry out customs work for decades. The Road Haulage Association estimates declaration forms for tariffs would number 200 to 250M and exit and entry forms 100 to 125M. 50,000 additional customs agents are needed, of which only a fraction have so far been recruited. The Chief Executive of HMRC has confirmed 265M customs declarations will have to made annually when the system is fully phased in – this represents an increase of 211M compared to 2017.

In any scenario, hauliers and their drivers will have to receive all the correct customs documentation from their customers (the exporter), as well as a safety and security paperwork. Otherwise, they will not be able to exit the country. They may have to take goods to a UK Customs office and undergo physical checks. They will need to comply with all necessary EU import procedures for the country they enter. There are additional procedures for moving animals, animal products, fish and fish products including phytosanitary certificates and catch certificates. In addition, hauliers will have to comply with all import procedures from the EU. This will increase costs and inevitably impact on travel time.

Kent access

Goods vehicle drivers seeking to exit the UK in Kent via Dover or Eurotunnel will require a Kent Access Permit (KAP) to enter Kent, to be able to exit the UK, for each trip. Unless carrying out deliveries within Kent it will be an offence to be within Kent en route to Dover or the Eurotunnel without the KAP, for which a fixed penalty of £300 can be imposed. The idea is to ensure that the operator and driver have all necessary paperwork in order before entering Kent, so the permits cannot be issued unless this is resolved. The vehicle has to be ‘border-ready’.

Driver shortages

Logistics UK estimates that the current UK driver shortage – already significant – is now around 70,000 drivers. This has been a continuing challenge for the sector for many years. A combination of factors appear to be at play: reduced driving test capacity due to COVID, other COVID factors, Brexit, IR35 changes (due April 2021), new immigration rules and EU drivers leaving or not returning to the UK over the last two years.

Driver licences

The recognition of UK driving licences is not part of ‘the deal’ as such but dealt with separately. There is a possibility that drivers might need an international driving licence (IDP) as well as their UK licence. However, the aspiration of HM Government is that there will be mutual recognition of UK photocard licences.

Driver CPC

The Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) will continue to be needed but be recognised when driving within the EU for a UK operator’s driver. However, drivers working for EU operators may need to swap their card for an EU DCPC.

Motor Insurance Green Card

Operators will need to be alert to changes from 1 January 2021 that may mean vehicles and trailers operating in the EU must be part of the Green Card Scheme, issued by their insurer.

The above does not include information with regard to the law surrounding movements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that is a separate complex scenario.

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If you have any questions regarding international transport, or any other Road Transport or Regulatory matters, please get in contact with us on 0330 404 0777 or email


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