Reviewed in September 2020. Content will be updated as negotiations develop.

What is changing?

Northern Ireland will leave the European Union single market in services on 1 January 2021 together with the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK single market in services. The Northern Ireland Protocol which provides for special treatment for trade in goods in Northern Ireland does not apply to services. 

The EU UK negotiations on a future relationship agreement include proposals for some guarantees and arrangements in relation to providing services cross-border from the UK into Ireland and from Ireland into the UK. Regardless of whether or not there is an EU UK future relationship agreement before the end of 2020, there will be changes to some of the guarantees and rules that apply at present in relation to providing services cross-border into the EU. 

If there is no agreement, the WTO agreement on services (GATS) will apply to trade in services cross-border from the UK into Ireland and the rest of the EU. If there is an agreement it will build on the GATS agreement and is likely to cover most sectors and methods of doing business. In either event, one important effect is that the strong EU single market guarantees will be replaced by looser and less easily enforceable rules. See the FAQ sections of this website. 

Northern Ireland

  • Businesses in most service sectors in Northern Ireland do not need an authorisation or licence to do business at all, whether in Northern Ireland, elsewhere in the UK or in Ireland. In almost all such cases, no new authorisation or licence will be required to continue to provide the services cross-border into Ireland or in Ireland after 1st January 2021.
  • Most of the rules and regulations in relation to doing business in Northern Ireland will continue to be the same or very similar to those which apply in Ireland. The UK Government has prepared legislation to replicate almost all EU derived rules and regulations in relation to doing business from 1st January 2021, such as those on sale of goods, the supply of services including digital services, intellectual property, consumer rights, distance selling, data protection and many other matters.
  • If your business in Northern Ireland provides services cross-border into or in Ireland or elsewhere in the European Union, you should review and act on any changes in the rules on doing business that may apply to you from 1st January 2021. These may be changes in VAT treatment, new immigration issues for EU26 employees, employees’ qualifications, and other compliance issues as well as the more general economic effects that may apply. For some businesses, the changed rules on tendering for state contracts in Ireland and the EU will be important. There is guidance on these issues elsewhere on this site.
  • There are common EU wide rules in relation to the required website information, internet contracts, data protection, digital platforms and consumer protection. Most of them will be reinstated in almost identical terms as UK law as and from 1st January 2020.

The UK Government has provided detailed guidance notes on selling services to the EU from 1 January 2021 – click here for more information. 

The Government has also provided detailed guidance on the new rules and considerations that might arise in selling services into each EU state, on a country by country basis here. For example, the guidance for Ireland and France.

Businesses should consult the guidance in relation to each particular market into which they provide services.

The Irish Government published its updated Brexit Readiness Action Plan in September 2020 which contains useful and detailed information for Northern Ireland businesses which provide services cross-border into or in Ireland. 

It all comes back to planning! Anticipating the risks and pitfalls unique to your business can avoid or at least mitigate unknown problems. In most cases, something can be done. Although all the consequences of Brexit cannot be foreseen many of the direct and obvious impacts can be anticipated and managed.