It was billed as a deal that would secure tariff-free access to the EU, that “sunlit uplands” would follow initial disruption to trade.
But one month since the Brexit trade deal came into force, businesses are warning that the “teething problems” Boris Johnson described in a visit to Scotland last week are in fact symptomatic of endemic disruption that will force many businesses to restructure and will mean the end of some British businesses altogether.
“The last month has been like Dante’s fifth circle of hell” for importers and exporters unable to move supplies because of new red tape, said Ben Fletcher, the policy director of Make UK, which represents manufacturers across the UK.
One internationally renowned car manufacturer had “1,000 cars sitting in their car park partially built because they could not get the parts in time,” said Fletcher. “They said this has never happened ever before.”
A survey by Make UK of its members shows that 60% of companies that said there were ready for Brexit are “now experience disruption” and “also finding supply chains significantly impacted.
“There is real anger and incredible frustration for people who either import or export that they are simply not able to move stuff. It is just incredibly difficult to get the paperwork right and there have been very low levels of support from government,” he added.
He was commenting as the Cabinet Office said the flow of cross-channel freight was much better than anticipated with just “2-3%” trucks turned away for not having the paperwork or Covid tests required, and no expectation now that the worst-case scenario it had modelled of 7,000 trucks queuing in Kent would be realised.
But Shane Brennan, the chief executive of Cold Chain Federation, said traffic volumes were still down because of Brexit stockpiling. Warehouses were 85% full, down from 100% before Christmas, but still above the 60% usually seen in January.
He urged the government to “stop using the lack of traffic on Kent roads as a metric of the success of Brexit and realise that the real test is ease of trading”.
French authorities told government officials that “around 50%” of lorries crossing the channel were empty. One logistics company in Europe reports that some of its customers including one large car firm, was paying for trucks to return to the EU without cargo to ensure they were not delayed at the frontier and would therefore have time for a second or third delivery back to the UK each week.
The biggest hit to business is the new rules of origin requirement, which will have a permanent impact on trade. Previously, Brexit goods coming from the EU did not need to be certified as made in Britain or made in the EU to be sold freely within the single market.
But since January the provenance of all goods must be documented. A circuit board from Korea in a gadget assembled in Germany, metal from China in a bicycle made in Italy or textile from Morocco in a…
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