Politics

Brexit delays still worsening as 79% of traders report Channel hold-ups


Delays to cross-Channel trade are still worsening almost a year after Brexit checks came in, says a study also highlighting rising costs and key staff shunning the UK.

No less than 79 per cent of firms trading with France reported hold-ups in the three months to September – crucially, 6 per cent more than in the second quarter of the year.

The delays are also lengthening, with 42 per cent of businesses taking an additional two to three weeks to import goods compared to 28 per cent in the April-June period.

Some 82 per cent of firms say logistic costs have risen for imports and 43 per cent for exports, the survey by the French Chamber of Great Britain found.

And 30 per cent cut staff “directly as a result of Brexit” – some reporting problems in “attracting European talent to the UK”, following the divorce from the EU.

Boris Johnson claimed they were just “teething problems” when traders hit trouble at the start of 2021, but the French Chamber has warned of “potentially serious supply chain issues” that threaten Christmas deliveries.

“What this data reveals is that supply chain issues between France and the UK don’t seem to be getting any better since the start of the year,” said Marilise Saghbini, its director.

“What we’re most concerned about are the reduced numbers of young people having access to career opportunities on both side of the Channel – youth mobility is a critical issue to get right as we build beyond Brexit in 2022.”

The report was seized on by the UK Trade and Business Commission of cross-party MPs and industry groups, which urged the government to step in.

It comes just weeks before the long-delayed introduction of post-Brexit border controls on imports to the UK, which it is feared will hit trade harder.

Naomi Smith, chief executive of the Best for Britain group, which helped set up the Commission, said: “What the government once called teething problems have now become a chronic condition, as their failure to reduce barriers and streamline processes they created has made delays worse than when we first left the EU.”

Tamara Cincik, chief executive of Fashion Roundtable, a member, said: “With new checks in a matter of weeks, and less than a quarter of small businesses ready, the government must step up support for small businesses, who will face even more costly red tape and administrative burden.”

The report by the Chamber, which represents 400 companies that import from and export to France, is the latest evidence of the trading damage from leaving the single market and customs union.

The Office for National Statistics found a 23.1 per cent plunge in goods trade between the UK and the EU in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same period of 2018, while trade with other countries remained stable.

The National Audit Office then found that cost UK exporters £17bn – while firms filled in an extraordinary 48 million customs declarations and 140,000 export health certificates in just 8 months.

The French Chamber says total trade in goods and services between the UK and France fell from £74.2bn in the year to June 2020 to £64.1bn a year later.

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