The bells of Big Ben will chime to mark the occasion but there will be no street parties or chaos on the roads for the arrival of Brexit at 11pm, when the transition period ends.
Covid curbs and the roads of Kent and streets of Dover, emblematic of the divorce from the EU, are expected to be deserted with little public sign of the abrupt end of a 47-year relationship with the EU.
Industry leaders are warning, however, of “invisible chaos” in the coming weeks as businesses grapple with new trading rules and software systems required from day one for exports to the EU.
While the UK has decided to phase in reciprocal checks over six months, in Northern Ireland they will be operational from day one, raising fears of immediate chaos and confusion despite a £200m support scheme put in place by the government and a grace period for supermarkets.
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Those who arrive for the first time after 1 January will have to go through the new points-based system requiring a minimum salary of £25,600 for skilled workers and £20,480 for those with job offers in a shortage occupation or in possession of a PhD relevant to the job.
British nationals travelling to Europe on holiday will be able to do so visa-free for 90 days in a 180-day period but will lose the automatic right to live and work in an EU country.
Passport and other checks at the airport
The “arriving from the EU” lane will disappear at airports and replaced with “goods to declare” or “nothing to declare”.
There will be limits on alcohol and cigarette purchases from the EU on entry to the UK.
The Home Office says Border Force has recruited more than 1,000 extra officers and is training its staff on changes to policy and processes.
EU citizens will continue to be subject to ID and security checks and may be asked about the purpose of their journey. Border officials will be able to check if they have settled or pre-settled status. They will only do this if there is a “specific reason to do so”, according to the Home Office.
EU citizens can continue to use e-passport gates and existing queues – so no separate channel to UK nationals at airports. Some EU citizens not living in the UK may need a “permitted paid engagement” visa if they are visiting for work.
British nationals already settled in Europe have the right to remain although with restrictions on their movements to other EU countries.
EU citizens in the UK before 31 December are entitled to stay but campaigners warn they have only six months to make sure they are granted settled status or pre-settled status by the Home Office.
“The government says ‘you can do this’ by 30 June, but the message should be ‘you must do this or you will lose all your rights’, including your right to live and work in the country, right to healthcare and family reunion rights,” said Maike Bohn, one of the founders of the campaign group the3million.
“We worry about EU citizens losing their temporary pre-settled status and not qualifying for settled status due to absences that are often Covid-related. We continue to be very worried about those who do not realise they could lose all their rights from 1 July 2021, and those who will face discrimination and obstacles because they do not get a physical proof of their rights,” she said.
Landlords and employers
Landlords and employers face sanctions for employing or renting to people not entitled to be in the country, but 1 January will not mean an immediate change for those employing EU citizens already in the UK.
“For landlords there will be no immediate changes to what they are doing already,” said Meera Chindooroy, deputy campaigns director for the National Residential Landlords Association.
“Until 30 June right-to-rent checks will continue in the same way as they do now for EU citizens, along with those from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Landlords will not, for example, need to make retrospective checks for existing tenants from 2021,” she added.
But she said it was crucial the government published clear guidance to ensure landlords understand their responsibilities from July.
Will there be border chaos?
Postmortems on why food and toilets could not get to the thousands of lorry drivers stuck on the roads in Kent despite two years of planning for such scenes will continue. But Eurotunnel and the ports of Dover and Calais all agree they do not expect a repeat of the horrific scenes seen on Kent roads before Christmas this weekend.
They say that freight traffic is typically quieter in the first week in January but will be especially so in 2021 because so many companies stockpiled goods specifically to avoid the border in the first part of January.
“There is not going to be much traffic on 1 January or the 2 January but I think what we are going to see is invisible chaos in the coming weeks because people simply haven’t done the right paperwork before they get to Dover.
“There won’t be food shortages but you may well find that some supplies are delayed because people will make mistakes in filling out the new paperwork.
“We keep hearing that all the time, both from traders and hauliers, that there is a lack of awareness, we don’t know what needs to be done, and therefore if they’re trying to fill in the forms especially without professional help they will make mistakes,” said Rod McKenzie, policy director at the Road Haulage Association.
All businesses are required to provide a customs declaration on goods sent into the EU, including Ireland and Northern Ireland (which will follow EU customs rules). They must also know if VAT is applicable and ensure fees are cleared before transit or on arrival.
Lorry drivers going into Kent must satisfy HMRC they have all the correct paperwork by applying online for a Kent Access Permit, dubbed the Brexit truckers’ passport. Those carrying chilled, frozen food or animals, including race horses, will need health certificates for their cargo to prove to the French they are disease- and pest-free.
Businesses also have to have an economic operators registration and identification system (EORI) for the exporter and the recipient, including special numbers for Northern Ireland prefixed by XI.
Freight owners who have not supplied drivers with the correct customs paperwork or health certificates for food consignments will not get the Kent Access Permit they need to get into the county and “will be stuck in depots and distribution centres around the country” and that’s what I mean by invisible,” said McKenzie.