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How digital has reduced the Brexit burden

Insight Published on 17 March 2022

Written for TechUK as part of their Trade Digitalisation Week

Brexit may now feel like old news, but many organisations are still dealing with the fallout, particularly those who trade with the EU.  This is most definitely the case when it comes to moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and digitalisation is playing a key role in helping to keep trade flowing between these two trading partners.   

Each year, the 1.89m people who live in Northern Ireland spend £9.2Bn on retail products and £3.3Bn on food and groceries. The country also has a strong manufacturing sector which employs over 46,000 people and accounts for around 8% of Northern Ireland’s economic output.  So, understandably, for many UK businesses, Northern Ireland represents a significant market.    

Trade between the two countries became more complex because of the Northern Ireland Protocol that came into operation on 1st January 2021. Its purpose is to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and means that goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain need to prove they comply with EU customs laws.  According to The Times, goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are facing more than 650 checks a day, with entry document checks in Northern Ireland making up one in five of all EU border checks. Companies that export to Northern Ireland must now complete some of these customs declarations using the UK Government’s Trader Support Service (TSS). The submission of forms and information into the TSS can be a long, complex, and typically very manual process - with customs checks (and fines for non-compliance) planned from summer 2022.    

Forms create additional bureaucracy and that inevitably means additional costs for businesses. Many hauliers, logistics companies, retailers and manufacturers who move goods to Northern Ireland have turned to redeploying their staff or employing temporary staff to cope with the administrative burden of dealing with the additional data entry and form processing.  

However, digital technology can provide a much more cost-effective and hassle-free alternative. Take, for example, our client, Sealey. They have over 10,000 different product lines including hand tools, power tools and equipment for servicing vehicles. They ship tools nationally and internationally from their East Anglia base. When the UK left the EU and the Northern Ireland Protocol was implemented, Sealey found themselves in a situation where they needed to submit huge volumes of data and information for customs declarations to the UK Government via the TSS website.   

As their technology partner, Sealey spoke to the team at PDMS about the problems they were encountering and how we could collaborate together to explore how technology could be used to remove some of the administrative burden surrounding the manual process of completing submissions via the TSS website.   

After some research, we developed a digital solution that allows clients (like Sealey) to upload data in a CSV format which parses and validates it into normalised tables in its own system database, for the three different levels in the data hierarchy. The solution then loops over the new data, sending it to the TSS API in the correct order, one item at a time. It now takes less than one minute to submit a reasonably big file to the TSS website. The benefits of this have been profound for Sealey, and saved considerable man-hours and money, delivering other benefits including increased data accuracy:  

Our workload for the Supplementary Declarations has been reduced from the equivalent of three people working full time to an hour a day of one person, which is amazing. And similarly, the ENS level has saved the guys each easily three hours a day. You could therefore probably equate the API to the full-time work of four people! Tim Thompson, Chief Commercial Officer, Sealey

This is just one very recent example of how innovative digital solutions can facilitate international trade by helping to ease the administrative burden of trade documentation whilst allowing staff to focus on more value-added activities.  With the expectation that trade regulations will change more frequently and possibly become more complex, the impact of digital transformation on international trade will become even greater in the future.  


  • Brexit
  • TSS
  • TraderTap