You must have a licence to supply anything on the UK strategic export control lists to someone based outside the UK (except for exporting most ‘dual use’ items to EU countries).
The UK strategic export control lists include finished items or systems, raw materials and components. For example:
- weapons and explosives
- goods, technology, software or components designed or modified for military use (for example vehicles, aircraft or marine craft, imaging equipment, armoured protective equipment, cryptographic technology or training materials for a weapons system)
- ‘dual use’ goods, technology, software, documents or diagrams which meet certain technical standards and could be used for military or civilian purposes (for example nuclear materials, chemical agents, electronics, computer or telecommunications equipment, sensors, lasers, machine tools, navigation and avionics equipment, marine technology or aerospace technology)
The UK strategic export control lists include the transfer of information that could be used for military or dual use purposes. For example:
- technical or training manuals
- diagrams or blueprints
You’ll need a licence for information in any form. For example print, email, telephone, text message or electronic file transfers or carrying a laptop abroad containing information about controlled technology.
You must apply for a licence if the government tells you that you need one.
If you’re exporting goods that are being picked directly from your place of work by your customer (‘ex-works goods’), tell them to check if they need an export licence.
When you need an export licence
If you don’t get a licence for items that need one your goods will be delayed at customs. They could be confiscated and you could be fined or prosecuted.
Use the goods checker to determine if your goods are on the UK strategic export control lists, and how they’re categorised.
You must have a licence to supply anything on the UK strategic export control lists to someone based outside the UK, unless you’re exporting:
- most dual use items to EU countries or the Channel Islands
- goods owned by the Ministry of Defence
You must also have a licence to export military or dual use goods out of the country temporarily.
Exporting dual use items to other EU countries
If your items are categorised as ‘Schedule 3 UK controlled dual-use, software and technology’ in the goods checker, you may not need a licence unless they’re listed in Annex IV of EU Dual Use Regulation 428/2009.
You don’t need a licence to export dual use items to the Channel Islands.
Even if your items don’t need a licence, the customs and transport documents must state that the items can only be moved outside the EU with an export licence.
Exporting goods owned by the Ministry of Defence
You don’t need a licence to export goods owned by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).
Instead, get an approval letter from the Export Control Joint Unit in the MOD. Email ECJU-MODTeam@mod.gov.uk for details.
Goods you can’t get a licence for
Even if your items wouldn’t usually need a licence, you must not export or broker the movement of any items, services or technology if you find out or are told they might be used:
- for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) purposes (for example, chemicals, biological agents or technology that might be used in a nuclear weapons facility)
- for military purposes in an embargoed country
This includes ‘technical assistance’ - for example, assembly, maintenance or repair services.
These are called ‘end use’, ‘end user’ or ‘catch all’ controls.
If you’ve any concerns about your end user, use the SPIRE service to request end user advice from the export control joint unit (ECJU). You must apply for a licence if the ECJU or HMRC tells you to.
There’s a different process if you think the person you’re dealing with is subject to financial sanctions.
Apply for an export licence
Use the SPIRE service to apply for all types of export licences.
There’s no charge for a licence. You can read guidance on how to use the SPIRE service.
ECO statistics data has information on how long licence applications usually take based on the country you’re sending your goods to.
Taking military or dual use goods out of the UK temporarily
You still need to get an export licence to take military or dual use goods out of the country temporarily (for example to demonstrate them to potential buyers at a trade show or take them to a commemorative military event).
Use the SPIRE system to apply for a temporary export licence.
Additional forms you may need to complete your licence application
When you apply through the SPIRE service, you’ll be told whether you need to complete any additional forms.
You can find links to the forms in the guidance to using SPIRE.
How ECJU decides whether to give licences
ECJU uses the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria to decide whether to give a licence.
ECJU also looks at the ‘incorporation factors’ if the goods will be incorporated into military equipment which will then be exported to another country.
Decisions are partly based on where you’re exporting to. For example, ECJU won’t usually give a licence if there’s an embargo on exporting military goods (arms embargo). Embargoed countries are:
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)
- South Sudan
There’s also an embargo on exporting jet fuel and jet fuel additives to Syria.
There are some limited exceptions (like for some types of goods that will be used for humanitarian relief or peacekeeping).
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - a regional group founded in 1975 to promote economic integration - adopted a convention on small arms and light weapons in June 2006. This included a moratorium on the import, export and manufacture of light weapons.
The UK will not issue an export licence for small arms and light weapons, components or ammunition unless the ECOWAS Commission has issued an exception to its moratorium. You can find out about the current ECOWAS restrictions in arms embargo on West African States.
ECOWAS consists of the following states:
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- The Gambia
- Guinea Bissau
There’s an embargo on exporting any of the following to China:
- lethal weapons such as machine guns, large calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles (plus specially designed components and ammunition for these items)
- military aircraft and helicopters, vessels of war, armoured fighting vehicles and other weapons platforms
- any equipment which might be used for internal repression
Brokering and arranging sales or movements
Brokering (known as ‘trade controls’) can include anything that helps to transfer items from one non-EU country to another. For example:
- arranging or negotiating contracts
- arranging or providing freight or transport services
- arranging intra company transfers
- drop shipping
Goods that you can’t arrange sales for or move
There’s a ban on ‘Category A’ goods, including:
- explosives like anti personnel land mines and cluster munitions
- torture goods
You won’t be able to export items classified in the goods checker as ‘Schedule 3 UK controlled dual-use, software and technology’ if you are told they might be used for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) purposes.
Brokering banned goods or to embargoed countries
There are tighter controls on brokering for some goods and for some locations.
For goods where there’s a total ban on UK exports (for example, anti personnel land mines) or where there’s a UK arms embargo in place, brokering also includes:
- general advertising and promotion (for example placing advertisements)
- finance, financial services, insurance or reinsurance services
- contract promotion activity
When you need a licence
You must have a trade control licence if you or your company is involved in brokering anything that’s categorised in the goods checker as ‘Schedule 2 military goods, software and technology’, except:
- goods with the code ML21 (software)
- goods with the code ML22 (technology).
There are 2 types of Open General Trade Control Licences available. These are quicker to get than other types of licences.
They are for:
some equipment for riot control and delivering incapacitation chemicals - contact ECJU for details
some ‘Schedule 2 military goods, software and technology’ goods - small arms and light weapons
Use the goods checker to find out how your goods are categorised.
Use the SPIRE service to apply for a trade control licence.
Who the brokering rules apply to
The brokering rules apply to:
- companies or other bodies incorporated under UK law
- UK nationals (including British citizens, British overseas territories citizens, British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas Citizens and ‘British subjects’ and ‘British protected persons’ under the British Nationality Act 1981)
The rules apply to UK nationals whether they have right of abode in the UK or not. They apply whether the UK national is working for a UK company, for a non-UK company or for themselves.
Sharing classified information
You must get approval from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) before sharing classified information or equipment with a person or organisation outside the UK. This means:
- information or equipment classified as ‘official-sensitive’ or higher
- information or equipment classified as ‘official’ - but only if it’s connected with other information or equipment that’s classified as ‘official-sensitive’ or higher
Use MOD form 680 on the SPIRE system to apply for approval.
It’s not just exporters and potential exporters who must apply for approval. The rule applies to anyone sharing classified information (for example, academics and researchers).
Contact your usual desk officer or email ECJU-MODTeam@mod.uk if you have a question about MOD form 680 applications.
Your licence responsibilities
You’ll get an electronic copy of your licence through the SPIRE system.
You must include a copy of the licence with the shipping paperwork. If you’re posting the goods, include a copy of the licence in a separate envelope, attached to the package.
You are responsible for making sure that your export licence is still valid when you export the goods.
Keep up to date with the ECJU’s notices to exporters.
If you don’t comply with the terms of your licence it could be revoked, and you could be fined or prosecuted.
If you use an Open General Export Licence (OGEL)
If you use an Open General Export Licence (OGEL), check the terms of your OGEL.
If you have a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL)
If you have a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL), you must:
- contact HMRC in advance to arrange an inspection of your goods (goods must be available for inspection at least 3 days before the export date)
- keep records of end user details
If you need a signed hard copy of your licence
Some countries require Private Security Companies (PSCs) to provide signed hard copies of their licences. This is to comply with international rules on preventing maritime piracy. Contact ECJU for details.
ECJU carries out regular compliance visits to make sure licence holders follow the correct processes. The compliance code of practice has guidance on:
- what records to keep
- what compliance processes to put in place
- how to train staff
- how compliance audits work
Breaches of export control legislation
As an exporter, you may discover that you have exported goods or transferred controlled technology without an appropriate export licence in place. It is also possible that a compliance inspector from the export control joint unit will identify an irregularity during a compliance audit.
If this happens, it is very important to report the irregularity to HMRC (sometimes known as ‘voluntary disclosure’) as soon as possible, as they are responsible for the enforcement of strategic export controls. If the irregularity was found on an ECJU compliance audit, the compliance inspector will have informed HMRC and you are strongly advised to do the same.
You should write to HMRC at:
HM Revenue & Customs
Customs Enforcement Policy Team
1st Floor, Customs House Annex, 32 St Mary At Hill London
You should provide:
- details of the export - including dates
- any relevant documents - such as export documentation and commercial invoices
- details of how the breach was discovered, why it occurred and what steps you have put in place to ensure it does not happen again
- HMRC will consider the matter and contact you directly, either for more information or to let you know of their decision.
Contact the export control joint unit (ECJU)
Telephone: 020 7215 4594
Use the SPIRE service to get advice from ECO on how to classify military or dual use goods and services.
ECJU runs training sessions on:
- how export controls work
- how to make export licence applications
- how classification works
Find out about future training sessions.
ECJU can provide bespoke training sessions at your business premises. Sessions cost £1,000 plus VAT for a whole day, or £750 plus VAT for a half day.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7215 4459 for details.