Firms are preparing for delays to intensify as traffic levels are set to increase at ports © Getty Images
Firms are preparing for delays to intensify as traffic levels are set to increase at ports © Getty Images

Six in 10 UK firms hit by post-Brexit border delays

25 January 2021

Six in 10 UK firms that import or export through the UK-EU border have experienced delays since 1 January, a survey has found.

Research conducted by CIPS found new Brexit customs requirements and extra Covid-19 protocols were primary causes of delays for many firms. 

In a survey of 185 UK and EU supply chain managers, almost a quarter (23%) said their firms would run low on stock should the situation at the border continue, which would cause a significant impact on consumers.

The survey comes as UK firms that export to Europe say they have been advised to set up hubs in the EU to minimise disruption under the new trade rules. 

According to the research over a third (37%) of firms reported that goods had been delayed by several days when moving goods from the UK into the EU.

Almost half (45%) of firms experienced delays getting goods into UK from the EU, and 28% said goods were delayed by several days. 

Around a quarter (24%) said they had not noticed any difference in the time it took to get goods into the EU from the UK.

Many respondents said the extra time required for customs officials to work through the new paperwork was the primary cause of delays (27%), but a tenth (11%) said Covid-19 protocols were exacerbating the situation.

There are also concerns that disruption will intensify as the volume of goods being moved across the border increases. Many firms had built up stock in December ahead of the Brexit deadline, and 17% of respondents stated they were importing or exporting far less due to stockpiling. 

When this stock runs low, many firms will have no option but to increase the volume of goods being transported across the border, and a further 18% expect their goods to be delayed once more traffic builds up at the border.

John Glen, CIPS economist, said: “A combination of new customs requirements and ramped up Covid-19 protocols at the border has delayed trade coming both in and out of the EU. Not only do businesses have to manage the new customs and rules of origin paperwork, but also contend with Covid-19 testing and reduced staff due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Worryingly, it is likely the delays at the border will get worse before they get better. Traffic through the border since 1 January has been low compared to historical levels, but with December stockpiles depleting it won’t be long before trade traffic increases and more pressure is placed on these new border processes. As the transportation of goods grows so will the queues, and businesses may be forced to limit or halt production to cope with any potential stock shortages.”

Simon Spurrell, co-founder of the Cheshire Cheese Company, told the BBC the business had been advised by an official at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to set up in the EU after it was forced to stop exports to the bloc due to the new trade rules.

The firm, which sold £180,000 worth of goods to EU customers last year, found that for every £25-30 gift box of cheese it sent to consumers in the EU, it needed a veterinary-approved health certificate costing £180 under the rules.

“I spoke to someone at the Defra for advice. They told me setting up a fulfilment centre in the EU where we could pack the boxes was my only solution,” Spurrell said. 

He said the firm had scrapped plans to build a £1m warehouse in Macclesfield, and was looking to set up a hub in France to “test the water”, where it would hire French employees and pay tax to the EU.

“I left the EU as a UK citizen but now they are suggesting I rejoin my company to the EU, so what was Brexit for?”

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