Back in January the reality of the UK leaving the EU and trading under the newly-agreed trade deal had come into force. I had spoken to Barry of BJW logistics ltd, a small logistics firm that specialises in transporting goods (particularly antiques and artworks) to and from Europe.
Barry, who has decades of experience and contacts, was forced to take the decision to stop travelling across to the continent and to concentrate his business exclusively in the UK, at least until things had settled down. This would be a change of direction that would also affect his clients and the business they were doing.
We are now approaching 100 days since 1st January 2021 and more than 3 months, plenty of time for all the issues and teething problems (as the British government has dubbed them) to be ironed out. So how is Barry doing? I contacted him to find out.
“I have been lucky. Business has been good in part due to my contacts, I have been able to keep busy whilst staying in the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic has actually come to my rescue, as many people stuck at home have been buying online. This has kept me going without having to rely on my usual European work.”
So you haven’t tried to go over the water since December?
“Until the week before Easter, no, I hadn’t even contemplated it. However, one of my longstanding clients needed me to collect some antiques from Holland. So I arranged a trip that went out on Monday 29 March.”
That’s great, so you have returned to your usual work and the teething problems with customs have been resolved.
“I only wish that that was the case. Let me tell you about the trip.
Before I left I needed to get all the paperwork arranged, as my client had bought from 8 different auction houses; I needed all the invoices with an Economic Operators Registration and Identification number (EORI number) from each auction house. This had to be registered with a clearing agent.
As I have been doing European logistics for many years, I was able to get a clearing agent, as they are no longer taking on new clients. I was lucky.
I decided to go out empty, something that I would never have done before. This was for two reasons: firstly the hassle of having the necessary extra paperwork which, if found to be incorrect or for any other reason, could hold me up -it could put the whole trip in jeopardy. Secondly, my usual customers are just not sending anything to the EU anymore; it is just too expensive and risky.”
What do you mean by expensive?
“Well for each outgoing CMR -Consignment document [Convention relative au contrat de transport international de marchandises par route]- there is a charge of £140 for customs and agent fees. Different destinations for goods require a separate CMR, so it can become prohibitively expensive. On top of this, VAT on the value of the goods is added; this can vary depending on which country is the final destination of the consignment.”
So you then headed straight over to the continent with an empty van?
“Not quite, as I had to stop at Clacket lane services for a Covid-19 lateral flow test first. Fortunately, I tested negative which enabled me to continue onto the tunnel. Although I find it perverse that we need a test to go to France and other countries in the EU as they are able to flex their sovereign right to control their own borders, while there is currently no such requirement coming into the UK.” [Note… as of the 6th of April lorry drivers entering the UK will now have to take a Covid-19 test if they stay longer than 2 days]
“If Brexit was all about sovereignty, whatever we were promised, the reality is that in practice we have given most of it away, as we have to pander to the whims of other nations and adhere to their rules in order to have any trade whatsoever.”
“I would usually be getting phone calls from other clients as they learn of my route through Europe but because all paperwork has to be arranged and logged with the agent before I set out; ad hoc work is now a thing of the past. So I drove to Holland and made my eight collections and returned to Calais for 9.00 am on Wednesday. I was due to return to England to unload before the Easter bank holiday. However, due to three of the auction houses misunderstanding the paperwork and providing the wrong information I was held up whilst I sorted this out. So instead of crossing shortly after 9.00 am on Wednesday I eventually left Calais at 3.00pm on Thursday. The knock-on effect will mean that I will be unable to unload until Tuesday which will eat into the already short week and I may have to drop work as a result.”
So has all of this affected your profit margins?
“Of course it has, I am unable to access my usual revenue streams on a trip like this, and I’ve been held up, wasted unnecessary time. When you add together all my overheads, it has possibly cost rather more than earned. Mind you, my customer hasn’t fared too well, either; as I picked up from eight different auction houses I needed 8 CMR’s each costing 130 Euros plus five percent VAT of the value of the goods. Had the antiques not been over 100 years old then the VAT would be set at 20%. He told me that in future he would limit his buying to only a few auction houses”
So how do you feel about the new trade deal now that you have experienced it?
“We were told that the deal would ensure frictionless trade with no tariffs. Well clearly it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. So many businesses have been sold down the river by politicians who don’t understand what they have meddled with, it’s criminal.”
If you, like Barry, would like your story told please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. All opinions welcome.