Brexit: Sanctions & Export Controls | Fieldfisher
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Brexit: Sanctions & Export Controls

Andrew Hood
Sanctions and export controls remain key planks of EU and UK foreign and international trade policy.  Amongst other things they can affect the flow of goods and know-how across borders and restrict doing business with certain individuals or companies around the world.
Until Brexit the UK and EU policies had been very closely (almost entirely) aligned on both sanctions and export controls and very few restrictions existed on the transfer of goods and know-how within the EU, even for some of the most sensitive of equipment.

Whilst the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement does not impact directly on these rules (apart from transparency requirements for export licensing procedures) and nor does it provide for a formal framework of co-ordination between the UK and the EU in developing future policy on sanctions or export controls.  In practice, it is likely that there will be close co-operation in both fields given the closeness of UK and EU shared foreign policy interests, but it will now be essential to check the sanctions and export control regimes applicable in both the UK and the EU.

Here is a summary of the main changes in UK/EU export controls and sanctions resulting from Brexit. It distinguishes between the rules that now apply in Great Britain (GB) and those in Northern Ireland (NI), given its different status under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

(Separately, the European Commission published on 20 January a Communication setting out its new strategy for “The European economic and financial system: fostering openness, strength and resilience”. In particular, the Commission aims to counter the extra-territorial application of unilateral sanctions by third countries (i.e. the US) by promoting the euro and improving EU financial market structures, and to promote the enforcement of EU sanctions.)

UK Sanctions

EU sanctions no longer apply in the UK. UK sanctions now apply through regulations made under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (the Sanctions Act). The regulations apply in the whole of the UK, including in NI. They apply to anyone in the UK, UK nationals outside of the UK, and bodies incorporated or constituted under the law of any part of the UK. They are also given effect in the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

The regulations broadly maintain the previous EU sanctions regime unchanged, but not all aspects have been replicated exactly and further changes are expected over time as the UK’s independent sanctions policy develops. Notably, the UK has not maintained all of the EU’s listings of sanctions entities, mainly due to the UK’s legal test not being met (e.g. those listed on the EU’s Ukraine, Egypt  and Tunisia misappropriation regimes). Traders are advised to check the specific requirements relevant to them and the related guidance.
There are now three UK lists:
Sanctions licences issued by the UK continue to be valid until the end of their validity. Applications for new licences (exports, imports  and financial) continue to be processed as before.

Dual-Use Items

  • GB: governed by the retained EU Dual-Use Regulation 428/2009 and the Export Control Order 2008. Exports to the EU and Channel Islands now require a licence; this will be simplified by the use of the open general export licence (OGEL) for exports of dual-use items to EU member states. Existing licences to non-EU countries remain valid, including registrations for the EU General Export Authorisations GEAs, which have become ‘retained GEAs’.  Export licences issued by the UK are no longer valid for exports from an EU member state; conversely, their licences are no longer valid for exports from GB. 
  • NI: governed by the current EU Dual-Use Regulation 428/2009. (A recast of this Regulation will come into force in the EU in early 2021. This will apply in NI but not in GB, unless the UK government decides to adopt it, in whole or in part.)  No licence is required for exports to or from GB or the EU. But for transfers to the EU the consignee should be informed in writing in the shipping documents that the goods require a licence if they are exported outside of the EU and records should be kept. Existing licences remain valid and registrations for EU GEAs will continue unchanged. Licences issued by EU member states are no longer valid for exports from NI.  
  • EU-GB: the EU (in Regulation 2020/2171) has added the UK as a permitted destination to the existing GEA EU001 licence, to simplify exports of dual-use items from the EU to GB.

Military Items

  • UK: governed by the Export Control Order 2008, as amended by EU exit regulations. There are essentially no changes: all exports of military items to all destinations outside the UK continue to require licences. No licence is required for transfers between NI and GB, in either direction. Open individual export licences (OIELs) for military exports from NI to the EU remain limited to a validity of three years, but this restriction no longer applies to such licences from GB. 
  • EU: governed by national laws in Member States. Transit licences may now be required for UK items shipped through some EU Member States. Additionally, since the UK is no longer a member of the EU, it is not automatically included as a destination in the national general licences covering military exports from some EU Member States. As a result, unless or until the UK is added to such licences, EU exporters need to apply for individual licences to export military items to the UK, which take considerably longer to be issued.


  • GB-EU: governed by retained Council Regulation (EU) No 258/2012. Dealer to Dealer OIELs are no longer valid for firearms moving from GB to the EU. The European Firearms Pass is no longer available in GB, but the exemption for the temporary export of firearms as personal effects to the rest of the world now also covers exports to the EU. 
  • NI - EU: governed by the Firearms Directive 91/477/EEC. The European Firearms Pass and Dealer to Dealer OIELs are still available in NI for taking firearms to the EU. A licence is required to export civilian firearms from NI to GB (but not from GB to NI).