Brexit: How have consumers and businesses been impacted a month on from the end of transition period?

Credit: PA

The UK has now been out of the EU for an entire month, following the end of the year-long transition period. 

The miles-long queues at the Channel Tunnel and ports such as Dover caused by Covid that were a feature at the tail end of 2020 have not materialised, but the ripple effects of Brexit have touched many consumers and businesses in the UK.

What has changed in the 31 days since the UK left and how has it impacted consumers and businesses? 

Amazon halts alcohol sales in Northern Ireland due to new Brexit customs rules

Northern Ireland has arguably being impact most by Brexit due to its unique position; the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement effectively annexed Northern Ireland as a Customs enclave of the EU.

The Northern Ireland Protocol - which was part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement - avoided the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland by creating a customs border down the Irish Sea.

Amazon’s suspended orders in Northern Ireland at the end of December, shortly after the UK/EU trade deal was published. Credit: PA

The result is that, since the UK left the EU’s Single Market and its Customs Union at the end of last year, trade across the Irish Sea has been significantly disrupted. 

Just last week, Amazon stopped selling wines, beers and spirits to its customers in Northern Ireland as it wrestles with new customs rules post-Brexit.

The online retailer is concerned that excise duty - a tax - will now have to be paid twice on all shipments of alcohol which are sent from the British mainland across the Irish Sea.

Amazon suspended orders in Northern Ireland at the end of December, shortly after the UK/EU trade deal was published, and the decision is unlikely to be reversed until the company obtains clarity on the tax situation from HMRC.

Other companies cancel online orders 

TK Maxx, Dunelm, and John Lewis, have responded to the cost and inconvenience of extra customs paperwork by cancelling overseas online deliveries.

Upmarket London store Fortnum & Mason suspended EU sales early in the new year, citing Brexit trading rules for its decision.

The upmarket grocer said: "We are temporarily unable to deliver to Northern Ireland or countries in the European Union."

Under the "rule of origin" clause, goods made, or part-made outside the UK or EU and resold by UK businesses are now subject to VAT and import duties when sold to within the European Union.

Many British businesses exporting to the bloc have a supply chain based outside the EU, exposing them to extra costs.

Percy Pigs struggled to find their way across the Irish Sea to supermarket shelves in the Republic of Ireland Credit: M&S

Percy Pigs the first casualties of Brexit red tape

In the first week of January, Percy Pigs struggled to find their way across the Irish Sea to supermarket shelves in the Republic of Ireland.

Marks & Spencer revealed that getting to grips with new post-Brexit rules are becoming particularly tricky for the retailer’s porcine favourite.

Incoming trade to Ireland from Great Britain remains at about half of the level seen at the same time last year, almost a month after Brexit, a Department of Transport official has said.

Irish customs officials say they are “concerned” about the low levels of goods coming into the country, as hauliers and importers grapple with new customs red tape.

Supermarkets have been struggling to get some fresh goods to Northern Ireland Credit: PA

Food supplies to shops in Northern Ireland stutter 

The chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, and Asda, warned early in January that “urgent intervention” was needed to prevent further disruption to food supplies in Northern Ireland.

Several supermarkets saw depleted shelves in the early days of the new year as firms adjusted to new requirements on moving produce across the Irish Sea.

Export health certificates are required for animal-based food products moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland as a result of the region remaining in the EU’s single market for goods.

With Northern Ireland also applying EU customs rules at its ports, customs declarations are needed on products being shipped in from the rest of the UK.

Seafood companies see stock rot

Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by delays since the UK’s transition period ended on December 31 with Scottish seafood companies reporting that Brexit red tape was bringing their business to a standstill.

SNP MP Stuart C McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) told Environment Secretary George Eustice last week that Scottish seafood companies were concerned they were “going out of business” with their produce “sitting in lorry parks in Kent waiting for customs clearance”.

The UK Government is being urged to ensure that time-critical products like Scottish seafood can still reach mainland Europe if there is a n Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

ITV News also reported on langoustines companies in Scotland that sold the vast number of their stock to France and Spain. Langoustines caught in Clyde have 24 hours to reach the markets in France still alive before being dispatched to the continental markets.

Now, the UK’s fisheries deal with the EU means exports to the most profitable markets are being blocked by changes to paperwork and welfare requirements which means the langoustines die before they cross the channel.

Some Scottish fishing boats that are able to are now landing their catch in Ireland or Denmark so it’s easier to export to the EU. This completely cuts out UK processors.

Ham sandwiches are banned

One post-Brexit moment that ignited social media was a Dutch border official confiscating ham sandwiches from UK travellers. 

Dutch TV network NPO filmed customs patrols explaining to arrivals that they cannot take meat or dairy products into the EU.

UK passport holders are restricted with what food they can take to and from the continent and Ireland. Credit: Unsplash

One driver who arrived by ferry at the Hook of Holland seaport was told he would lose his ham sandwiches.

The man asked whether he could “take off the meat and you leave me the bread?”

But a border guard responded: “No, everything will be confiscated. Welcome to the Brexit, sir. I’m sorry.”

Parcel deliveries stalled

The first week of Brexit was a bumpy one for DPD. The delivery company said that up to 20% of parcels had incorrect or incomplete data, meaning they had to be returned to customers, and announced a pause to its road service into Europe and Ireland.

But medical cannabis is given a reprieve 

Imports of medical cannabis to more than 40 children with severe epilepsy have been given a six-month reprieve – after being halted due to Brexit.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the Dutch government has confirmed it will allow the continued supply of Bedrocan oil from the Netherlands to existing UK patients until July 1 this year.

Parents successfully campaigned in 2018 to get government approval for the cannabis based medication

UK retailers burning returned goods

Now the transition period has ended, customs duty and import VAT are levied on all goods over £135 (and on items including alcohol, tobacco or perfume even if they are worth less than that).

This has caused teething problems on both sides of the channel, with some British consumers caught out by import duty and forced to pay to have their item released by customs.

UK retailers could ‘burn’ goods stuck in EU over costly returns process. Credit: Unsplash

Meanwhile, some UK retailers are considering abandoning or burning goods returned by EU customers due to the cost and trouble of bringing them back into the country.

The BBC reported that the Brexit trade deal has seen many European customers rejecting goods imported from the UK after being presented with unexpected customs charges when signing for them.

Retailers are then met with more customs paperwork and charges upon the goods’ arrival back in the UK, with UK Fashion & Textile Association chief Adam Mansell telling the BBC it is “cheaper for retailers to write off the cost of the goods than dealing with it all, either abandoning or potentially burning them”.

In a statement to the BBC, the government said: “We have encouraged companies new to dealing with customs declarations to appoint a specialist to deal with import and export declarations on their behalf – and we made more than £80m available to expand the capacity of the customs agents market.

“The government will continue to work closely with businesses to ensure they are able to trade effectively under the new rules.”

Lorries board a ferry at Dover bound for France Credit: PA

Lorries being turned away

Up to January 12, up to 200 lorries a day are being turned back from UK crossings into the EU because they lack the proper paperwork.

Emma Churchill, the head of the border and protocol delivery group at the Cabinet Office, said between 3% and 8% of HGVs, 100 to 200 vehicles a day, were getting turned away at the ports.

But, giving evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee, she said the numbers were far fewer than had been expected following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.