Brexit reality bites in Somerset

The United Kingdom and the European Union have agreed a new trade deal which came into force immediately the transition period ended on 1 January. The guesswork has finally come to an end and over the next few months and years we will start to fully understand the implications of leaving the EU, and our new trading arrangements. The changes will be far-reaching and affect much of our lives in ways we may not have considered. Our local businesses will have to adapt. One of the many ‘Leave’ campaign promises, for instance, was a bonfire of red tape. Now the phoney war has ended, it is time to start evaluating just how these promises have been honoured, if at all.

One local business that is very much at the forefront of the impact of Brexit is BJW Logistics Ltd, a small transport company in Taunton, Somerset. I spoke to Barry, the owner and director of the company.

“BJW Logistics Ltd started in April 2016 with a £7,000 loan to purchase my van and to set up my own company. Before this I had been in the removal and transport industry since 1985 after leaving the British Army.” Barry then described the sort of work his company with which his company is involved.

“I specialise mainly in fine art and antiques, but I am happy to collect and deliver most items where it’s feasible. I have been to the top of Scotland. Covered the Balearic Islands, delivering for a wedding planner. Fake flowers to Majorca. Italy to deliver motorcycles.”

Photo of Barry Whitcher by Richard Wilkins

When I asked Barry how Brexit has affected his company and how he felt about the changes, he explained that before Brexit it was easy to transport goods from one country to another.

“Before Brexit I could travel around the EU with just invoices and an International Consignment note which was recognized in all of the EU. As long as you had these documents you were fine. Anywhere you went, there were no charges – except Switzerland, which is not part of the EU.”

He is not pleased about the extra work and costs involved with the transportation to and from the EU.

“First of all, you have to have an agent to set up all the requirements for shipping into Europe. This all comes at a cost. More paperwork involved. All my trade clients have to provide the EORI Numbers  (Economic Operators Registration and Identification number). At the moment we are all in the laps of the Government agencies. If you go on GOV Website it’s not clear at all. Agents are giving conflicting messages in what is required so, basically, we are no better off. Transitioning is definitely not going to be easy. If you’re bringing items back to the UK now, they all have – depending on what they are – different tariffs on them. Also, you will have to clear customs, but no one knows where the agents are and if you do find one, it’s whether they want to take on your work.”

I then went on to ask Barry how he is going to deal with all these problems in his business and what his strategy would be for the future.

“To be honest I have pondered about doing Europe again as there are many obstacles in the way now.”

To be clear, transporting goods to and from the EU has been BJW Logistics Ltd’s mainstay for the past five years since Barry first set the company up. He has managed to make a profit every year, paying taxes and providing a service for other local companies and private individuals. Yet now, owing to a mixture of extra costs, paperwork and general lack of clarity, Barry is re-evaluating whether he can continue providing this service. For the meantime he plans on concentrating his business in the UK only.

“I feel let down by our government and the trade deal they have negotiated; it is far worse than what we used to have, and for what? As far as I can see there is no benefit, and my business and my customers suffer.”

“A classic example of how our government is failing us is the current border control. We are told that Brexit is about getting control of our borders, but when it really matters the French government  seems to hold more sovereignty over them. Drivers travelling to France have to have a negative Covid-19 test but anyone can enter the UK without any tests. It really says it all.”

“How can the Government ratify an 1264 page deal which has taken four and a half years to negotiate in just four hours?  I think more problems will be heading our way and unfortunately you, the consumer, will be footing the costs down the line. So as you can imagine, I am disappointed with the way we are at the moment. Anyway, upwards and onwards. I am still smiling.”

I wonder how many small local business owners – in the West Country or around the rest of the UK – are, like Barry, feeling the frustration of the increasing red tape and lack of clear information from the government?

If you own or work in a local business that has been affected by Brexit, either positively or negatively, West Country Voices would be very interested to hear and share your story.