If a week is a long time in politics, then a year is an absolute eternity in the politics of Brexit.
Last year, we outlined the VAT implications of Britain’s looming departure from the EU. Already complicated, the picture has since become even cloudier as the UK’s Internal Market Bill pushes for a new law that would change post-Brexit customs and trade rules in Northern Ireland. Things are far from resolved, and one Brexit issue which could impact businesses in Ireland is VAT. For the many Irish firms that rely on the UK/NI markets for goods; VAT will be extremely complex with significant challenges in terms of cashflow, administrative burden, and overall competitiveness.
“The first thing to say is that the proposal to change the Northern Ireland VAT regime under the Ireland / NI Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement will probably make it the most complicated in Europe,” says Cróna Clohisey, Public Policy Lead with Chartered Accountants Ireland.
“Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland will follow most EU VAT rules in relation to goods but this is not the case with services,” she says. “There are potential headaches in store for Irish companies exporting to, and especially importing from, the UK, and you must start getting on top of the rules now.
Come the first of January 2021, the UK will effectively operate three different VAT regimes. These include VAT rules for goods in Northern Ireland, which will continue to reflect the current position under EU law. For the rest of the UK (Britain excluding Northern Ireland), there will be a different VAT regime for goods. And finally, the UK will have a separate set of VAT rules for services.
No postponement on VAT payments
“If you’re an Irish firm trading with Britain, that’s where the biggest change is going to happen as you’re now going to be dealing in imports and exports rather than intra-community supplies,” says Cróna Clohisey. “For many businesses, this will be the first time they’ve had to deal with the rules for imports and exports.”
“The main issue will be for Irish companies importing goods from Britain,” she says. “From next year, you will be responsible for the import VAT and that will have to be paid immediately on import, whereas pre-Brexit any VAT arising could be dealt with later in your tax return.”
“If you’re adding 21% to goods worth €100,000, that’s an additional €21,000 you have to come up with that you may not have had to come up with before,” Clohisey adds to illustrate the point. “You will be able to claim it back later, but you could be waiting as long as 10 weeks before you’re able to recoup it in your next VAT return if you don’t have a deferred payment arrangement with Revenue.
“Although the UK Government has announced that it will postpone import VAT regardless of the Brexit outcome, the Irish Government has said it will only postpone import VAT on goods traded with Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” she says.
“Irish importers will be able to account for the VAT later, as they currently do on goods from the UK. If an agreement is reached between the EU and UK, VAT on imports from Britain could cause significant cashflow issues,” Clohisey says. “This is probably one of the biggest challenges that Irish firms will have to deal with in terms of importing goods from Britain, particularly those who don’t have a deferred payment account with Revenue.”
Registering for UK VAT
Another unforeseen issue coming down the tracks is the potential need to register for VAT in the UK. Up to now, many businesses were happily trading within the EU, so Irish firms did not necessarily need to register for VAT in the UK – that is about to change. “Situations will arise in 2021 where you will need to register for UK VAT, or where it will be more appropriate to do so,” says Cróna Clohisey.
“The problem with VAT registration is that it can take a long time,” she says. “Remember, you’re dealing with a new trading regime and HMRC (UK tax authority) won’t just hand out these registrations to anyone, they need to check it’s a legitimate business and that can take weeks.
“If you wait until January [to register], it could be March or April before you get your VAT registration,” Clohisey warns. “I’d be doing it now, don’t wait.”
While the ‘carving-out’ of Northern Ireland continues to make political headlines, it’s clear that there are customs and VAT-related ripples that will have a profound effect on Irish companies dealing with the UK.
“Now is the time to prepare,” says Cróna Clohisey. “Many Irish firms, especially the smaller guys, will need assistance and advice to understand the new UK/NI trading regime and how it affects them. There are some good supports out there including revenue.ie or, as a first port of call, you should talk to your accountant or financial controller.”