Manufacturers face 'hell' from Brexit border delays

1 February 2021

Three-fifths of manufacturing firms experienced “Dante’s fifth circle of hell” due to border delays in the last month, according to Make UK.

A survey by the manufacturing trade body revealed 60% of manufacturers experienced disruptions due to increased “paperwork and red tape” moving goods in and out of the EU, despite being prepared for the end of the Brexit transition period. 

This comes as the UK manufacturing sector recorded the longest supplier lead times in the last 30 years due to Brexit and Covid impacts, according to the latest PMI.

Make UK called for the UK government and EU to ease disruptions, by simplifying customs paperwork on both sides of the border, fast-tracking training of customs agents, and working with haulage firms to reduce issues.

Ben Fletcher, policy director at Make UK, told the Guardian: “The last month has been like Dante’s fifth circle of hell for importers and exporters unable to move supplies because of new red tape.”

Many trucks transporting supplies have been “stranded” in the EU due to incorrect paperwork, while some firms have been hit by “serious financial ramifications” after having to pay tariffs as it was too difficult to prove the origin of goods.

Meanwhile, supply chain disruptions due to Brexit red tape and Covid contributed to a drop in the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index to a three-month low of 54.1 in January, down from December's three-year high of 57.5.

New orders were hit by client closures, renewed uncertainty and impacts from the national lockdown. 

Consumer goods was the weakest performing across the sector, while other sub-industries expanded. 

Input purchasing declined for the first time in seven months, while price inflation soared to a four-year high due to raw material shortages and transport delays. Resulting cost hikes were passed on to clients, leading to the steepest inflation in selling prices for 28 months.

Duncan Brock, group director at the CIPS, said: “Primarily, it was SMEs who bore the brunt of the downturn, as they struggled to cope with increased demands in paperwork, border controls and the effects of port disruption where corporates with larger resources were able to tap into current stocks and find workarounds to these obstacles.”

Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit, said: "The hope is that the current constraints will start to ease once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, vaccines are rolled out and ports, suppliers and manufacturers adapt to the new trading environment post Brexit. 

“However, there is no swift end in sight to these headwinds, and the longer the current circumstances remain the greater the potential damage to the sector and its suppliers.”

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