Business leaders are urging the UK government to delay planned border checks on imports, warning some firms already face “existential” problems under new Brexit rules.
Half of exporters surveyed by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) said they had faced difficulties since Britain left the single market and customs union under prime minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal in January.
Companies highlighted increased administration, costs, delays and confusion over how to follow the wave of new UK and EU rules that came into force in January. New customs arrangements, the volume of new paperwork needed, and new rules-of-origin and VAT requirements topped firms’ concerns.
Some said they would move switch away from international trade altogether, or move operations overseas to avoid the disruption.
Jonathan Kemp, managing director of Merseyside manufacturer and BCC member AEV, said it planned to reduce its UK operations and invest in EU facilities. European customers had urged it to move production to its other Hungarian site to avoid extra paperwork and costs, even on VAT costs they can reclaim.
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“There is no support from government to fund delays or extra stock-holding required to deal with the delays or to assist in extra charges incurred by us or our customers,” he said.
“For some firms these concerns are existential, and go well beyond mere ‘teething problems’,” said Adam Marshall, director-general of the BCC.
“It should not be the case that companies simply have to give up on selling their goods and services into the EU.”
He said the agreement of the Brexit trade deal and finalising of new rules in late December meant companies had been “in the dark on the detail right until the last minute.”
Marshall called for the UK to resume talks with the EU to reduce “unhelpful burdens” such as rules-of-origin and VAT requirements.
He also urged the government to delay planned border health and safety checks on animal and plant products due from April, and customs checks due from July. “This situation could get worse if the UK sticks to its guns,” he said.
Supermarkets have already warned further disruption to supplies in Northern Ireland is “inevitable” when new rules are also imposed from April on animal and plant products transported from Great Britain.
The BCC is also calling for the government to work with business leaders to identify the most significant blockages and publish plans to resolve them. Tax credits, allowing firms to offset spending on adapting to new UK-EU requirements, should also be introduced, it said on Thursday.
Several other BCC members shared their experiences of disruption. Yorkshire manufacturer Sound Leisure was told by its freight forwarder to hold off shipping machines to Spain for a few more weeks “whilst everything calmed down,” according to managing director Chris Black.
A UK government spokesperson said: "Thanks to the hard work put in by hauliers and traders to get ready to leave the EU, there are no queues in Kent, disruption at the border has been minimal and flows are approaching normal levels.
"To support traders and businesses that are currently facing challenges with specific aspects of our new trading relationship, we are operating export helplines, running webinars with experts and offering businesses support via our network of 300 international trade advisers.
“We will ensure businesses get the support they need to trade effectively with Europe and to seize new opportunities as we strike trade deals with the world's fastest growing markets and explore our newfound regulatory freedoms."
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