The problem is not the tariffs that have been largely eliminated by the post-Brexit free trade deal between London and Brussels, but rather the mountain of paperwork associated with the return – even partially for now – of border controls. “We added probably 25% extra costs to our administrative costs just to deal with changed formalities and procedures to bring things in and out of the EU,” says Adrian HanRahan.
The company employs 265 people and manufactures chemicals for many sectors, from the pharmaceutical industry to the food industry, electronics and the automotive industry. About 70% of production is exported, more than half to the continent. “If your company doesn’t trade with the EU, then you can see Brexit as a good thing”, but for the many companies that trade with this big neighbor, “it’s just more difficult”, says the boss.
Support for Brexit has never been so low across the Channel: less than a third of Britons think it was the right decision, according to a recent YouGov poll, despite repeated efforts by the Conservative government to tout its benefits . The country has “never seen such a disruption to a deep trading relationship”, said Nikhil Datta, a researcher at the London School of Economics (LSE). The agreements that have since been signed with other countries, such as the one with Australia, often put forward by the executive branch, have had only a “small” impact, he said.
Many economists believe that Brexit has worsened the country’s economic situation, today on the brink of recession, by weighing on foreign trade, business investment or by causing the pound to fall – worsening inflation, which is currently close to 11% and causing a serious crisis in the cost of living. “There is a fair degree of consensus that Brexit has reduced the UK’s foreign trade by around 10-15% compared to a no-Brexit scenario,” said Jonathan Portes, an economist at King’s College.
“Not the Brexit I wanted”
Robinson Brothers is far from alone in struggling with the consequences of Brexit: more than half of the companies are struggling to adapt to the new rules, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). “Companies have the feeling of banging their heads against a brick wall because nothing has been done to help them,” thundered Shevaun Haviland, director general of the BCC, asking the government to review its copy with Brussels. We need “an honest dialogue about how we can improve our trade relations with the EU”, she insists.
Brexit has also complicated the hiring of European workers, which several sectors, from hotels and restaurants to agriculture, count. Some big bosses, yet notorious “Brexitors”, such as Simon Wolfson, head of the British clothing giant Next, or Tim Martin, who heads the Wetherspoon pub chain, are calling on the government to ease migration rules. This is “definitely not the Brexit I wanted”, Simon Wolfson decided last month in an interview with the BBC channel.