Trading with Northern Ireland

We Need to Talk About Trading with Northern Ireland

Mention trading with Northern Ireland, customs, or VAT in one sentence to a UK business owner, and they’re likely to break out into a cold sweat.

Brexit was never going to be a smooth ride, but businesses are floundering when dealing with the enigma that is Northern Ireland. It may be part of the UK, but its proximity to the Republic of Ireland continues to cause problems.

Before the Brexit chaos began, the EU and UK already had a deal on Northern Ireland called the Northern Ireland Protocol. Its primary purpose was to stop the hardening of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by keeping it in the EU’s single market for goods and apply EU customs rules at its ports.

Basically, under the Protocol, Northern Ireland has the most headache-inducingly complex VAT and customs regime in Europe. If you want to trade with it, you must deal with three different VAT systems:

  • Northern Ireland VAT rules for goods (mirroring EU law)
  • Rest of the UK VAT rules for goods
  • UK-wide VAT rules for services

Let’s try and break this down to get a clearer picture of what trading with Northern Ireland looks like post-Brexit.

Trading with Northern Ireland

We’ll try to give you a simple overview of what’s what about VAT and customs.


When selling goods, you can continue to charge your customers VAT. However, there are a few exceptions to this where goods are:

  • Shown to be in a special customs procedure when they enter Northern Ireland or the UK
  • Subject to domestic reverse charge rules including on sales of gold or gas and electricity to a VAT registered business
  • Subject to an Onward Supply procedure
  • Sold by an overseas seller through an online marketplace


In the case of a special customs procedure, the importer must account for the VAT and chose how to pay or account for the VAT when discharging goods from the special procedure.

If you’re importing from Northern Ireland, your goods won’t be subject to tariffs, and there won’t be any extra customs checks.

Will it get easier?

We’re not sure if it will ever get easier; it’s more likely that you’ll just get used to the minefield of red tape that our ‘free trade’ deal appears to be riddled with.
No one expected a smooth ride after Brexit, but businesses are finding they suddenly have a lot on their plate and feel overwhelmed. You can lessen the burden on your team by partnering with a logistics company that’s on top of the new normal.

Smart Directions’ full range of logistics services will get your consignment to its destination without any fuss or drama. Contact the team on 01442 507240 and let them take the strain.

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