Leslie – Brexit the beginning of an avalanche of paperwork for businesses

Leaving the Customs Union could lead to British businesses having to handle over 60 million more pieces of paperwork every year, according to new figures calculated by researchers at the Open Britain campaign.

Membership of the Customs Union means UK firms do not have to complete the same amount of paperwork when importing goods from or exporting goods to countries that are fellow members as they do when importing from or exporting to nations outside of the Customs Union. 

Figures from the World Customs Organisation show that in 2015, the UK made 70.5 million import declarations and 6.5 million export declarations in 2015 for non-EU goods trade. Assuming that a similar ratio of declarations was required for goods trade with the EU after we left the Customs Union, then British businesses would need to fill out over 45 million import declarations and 15 million export declarations – a total of over 60 million new forms. 

Piled on top of each other, these pieces of paper would sit over 3.8 miles high – the height of 120 Nelson’s Columns. Stretched end-to-end, they would stretch over 11,000 miles – enough to reach to New Zealand.

This additional bureaucracy for firms comes after previous research from the Open Britain campaign revealed that leaving the Customs Union would result in a £12.7bn a year bill for British businesses.

Chris Leslie MP, leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said:

“Brexit isn’t a liberation from red tape but the beginning of an avalanche of paperwork for businesses trading with Europe.

“Ministers should commit to publishing a full cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of leaving the Customs Union, rather than just airily asserting that it will benefit our trade and our economy without any evidence for those claims.”

Joe Carberry, co-Executive Director of Open Britain, added:

“Leaving the Customs Union will result in a bombshell of Brexit bureaucracy for British businesses.

“Leave campaigners hailed Brexit as a bonfire of regulations but quitting the Customs Union will tie up British importers and exporters in lots more red tape.”


Notes to editors

All goods imported into the EU must be declared to the customs authorities of the appropriate country. Depending on the type of goods, additional documents must also be presented to customs authorities. These may include commercial invoices; transport documents; certificates of origin; import licences; and inspection certificates (such as health, veterinary or plant-health certificates).

Every good that is imported in to the EU has to be classified with a product code and this classification determines the customs duty that will be paid on it and the controls that are needed (such as safety, sanitary, or packaging requirements).

The classification of products is a complex task, given the huge variety of products traded. It requires complete shipping documents and incorrect classification may result in delays in clearing goods and incur additional duties. As an example of how complex this is, there are differing classifications for live, fresh, frozen or smoked Atlantic salmon, as well as for prepared Atlantic salmon.


World Customs Union figures for 2015: http://www.wcoomd.org/en/about-us/what-is-the-wco/~/media/WCO/Public/Global/PDF/Topics/Research/Annual%20reports/AR%20English%20Final%202015_2016.ashx 

HMRC do not hold trade data for volume but instead use figures by weight. In 2015:

  • Exports to EU: 108,420,018,253 kg.
  • Imports from EU: 112,686,464,469 kg.
  • Exports to non-EU: 45,838,725,966 kg.
  • Imports from non-EU: 174,048,014,565 kg.


Ratio Calculations:

  • Imports: 174,048,014,565/112,686,464,469 = 1.55.
  • 70,500,000/1.55 = 45,483,871.
  • Exports: 45,838,725,966/108,420,018,253 = 0.42
  • 6,500,000/0.42 = 15,476,191.
  • Total: 60,960,062.


500 sheets of paper (a ream) is two inches thick. Therefore:

  • 60,960,062/500 = 121,920
  • 121,920*2 = 243,840 inches.
  • 243,840 inches = 3.85 miles.


A piece of A4 paper is 11.69 inches long. Therefore:

  • 60,960,062*11.69 = 712,623,125 inches.
  • 712,623,125 inches = 11,247 miles.


Note: This assumes each declaration is just one piece of paper, when, in reality, each is likely to comprise of millions of pieces of paper.

Nelson’s column is 169 feet 3 inches tall:


  • 3.85 miles is 20,328 feet.
  • That means 3.85 miles of paper is equal to 120.11 Nelsons Columns 

11,247 miles is the approximate distance between the UK and New Zealand: https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=london%20to%20auckland%20distance

Leaving the Customs Union would result in a £12.7bn a year bill for British businesses: