Meet Barry. He’s not a moaner or a quitter but he is hacked off with Brexit

It has been unedifying, to say the least, to see people piling on to Brexit reality stories to shout “told you so!” to the victims of the Brexit scam. This story, as it happens , is about a business owner who saw through the lies from the start. A pragmatist, he resigned himself to the post Brexit world but he is very angry about what that world means for him, his business, the businesses and jobs of his peers and fellow citizens and by the fact that its damaging impact is being largely under-reported by the mainstream media.

Barry Hemmings is not a moaner, a pessimist or a quitter but he is, like so many hundreds of thousands of others, ‘hacked off’ by Brexit and the damage it is doing to his business. Barry has shops in Teignmouth, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Honiton, selling a mix of fashion and home and giftware. He’s one of those high street heroes taking a stand against the ‘blandification’ of the nations’ high streets with identikit shopping. He’s determined to help local communities stay alive and retain their unique character and appeal for visitors and residents alike.

“I am ethically and intellectually committed to the high street”, he says. “The only way to keep towns alive is to have unique, one-off shops like mine that draw people in. My business model relies on that high street presence so I don’t trade online. Covid-19 has been bad news for me, of course, but I really don’t want politicians blaming everything that is happening since Jan 1 on Covid, because it’s not true.

I mainly buy from British and British-based companies but I do have at least half a dozen suppliers in Europe… probably not for much longer. One Danish company used to offer free carriage with orders of 650 euros or more. Now I have to order a minimum of 2,500 euros or incur big charges for shipping. The supplier says their container charges have gone up 600 per cent. I might have been able to spend 2,500 euros at Christmas in a normal year, but there’s no way I could now, Covid or no Covid.

It’s a nightmare for small businesses.  There’s no way we can absorb these sorts of cost increases or spend so much on stock. Then there’s all the paperwork:

First off, I had to get an Economic Operators Registration and Identification number – an EORI. It’s challenging to complete the online form – so much info needed that is already on file even though you have to log in through your HMRC account – More than 25 minutes to get a simple number.

And then the fun really began – one of the suppliers requires a Deferment Approval Number – something to do with having pre-approval to take imports and not have to pay import duty and VAT in advance. That was another 40 minutes of filling in data online; I then had a box pop up telling me I needed to provide additional info, and it diverted me to an Excel spreadsheet several pages long.

I’m intelligent, reasonably spreadsheet savvy, and pretty good with numbers, but let’s just say I didn’t understand most of the form and the bits I did essentially wanted me to input 3 years’ worth of accounting figures – but not in the format of our year-end accounts – even though they have all this info because, guess what, they receive my year-end accounts!

After 15 minutes of getting really frustrated, I gave up and have emailed the supplier to ask if they really need this!

They also want a power of attorney so that they can pay any duty on my behalf.

Johnson told us we’d have seamless trade and no changes to importing stock! Really?

So, I am facing several options:

– Spend some more hours trying again to provide everything they need for me to just carry on with business as it has been for the last six years.

– Risk not having all the right numbers and forms and, in turn, either not get my stock or having to pay whatever duty, VAT and/ or fines resulting from missing information.

– Give up buying from any of our European suppliers who supply directly to us.

And I’m just a relatively small business with just half a dozen European suppliers.

First signs are already there with some products being delayed at the docks, like the blanks our Staffordshire-based ceramics supplier imports from abroad. It’s all going to have a ripple effect. Watch out for widespread issues AND price increases because somewhere along the line all this additional admin and processing time – plus any changes to duties, VAT etc – sure won’t be able to be absorbed by suppliers already hit by Covid-19 and ‘closed more than open’ retailers!”

I ask him if he has been in touch with his MP and he snorts with derision. He never gets (and has never got) any response from Anne Marie Morris, Conservative MP for Newton Abbot, who has a certain reputation locally for her lack of responsiveness. He had clocked her act of rebellion on free school meals in the holidays, however, so he sees a glimmer of humanity there. Simon Jupp, in whose constituency Barry has two shops, “only ever engages with businesses that have Tory connections.”

He’s also very cynical about the numbers on help for business splashed about by Rishi Sunak.

“They just like to create some flattering headlines. For example, they go on about £9,000 for businesses in the next round of support but actually it’s UP to £9,000 and no guarantee that we’ll meet the criteria, and we can’t even apply for it yet, anyway. I’m lucky. I had a buffer which I built up from pre-Christmas trading, but that is being eaten into fast. I really worry for many of my peers. Business in coastal towns can’t make money out of domestic tourists. They don’t spend money in shops. They browse and admire and handle stuff, but they don’t buy, especially when there’s so much uncertainty around.  I’m lucky that I’ve got fantastic local customers, but if the whole economy is damaged further, they aren’t going to have the money to spend, either.”

Brexit, he says, should never have happened. The premise on which it was sold to voters bears no resemblance to the reality.

“People were hoodwinked by the right-wing press who are now crowing over how Boris got his deal. Good old Boris! But that deal is all smoke and mirrors. The detail is a disaster and the mainstream media aren’t reporting what is happening to business at the grassroots level. Business relies on openness, but we’re going in the opposite direction as a country. We’re damaging our relationships and making this country an unattractive, expensive place to visit. It’s mad.”