A British cheesemaker who expected Brexit would cost him hundreds of thousands of pounds in exports has called the UK’s departure from the EU single market a disaster, after losing his complete wholesale and retail business in the bloc over the past year. Simon Spurrell, the co-founder of the Cheshire Cheese Company, said personal advice from a government minister to pursue non-EU markets to compensate for his losses had proved to be “an expensive joke”.
“It turns out our greatest competitor on the planet is the UK government because every time they do a fantastic deal, they kick us out of that market – starting with the Brexit deal,” he said.
Spurrell expected in January that Brexit would cost him £250,000 in sales. “We lost £270,000, so I got one thing right,” he said, describing the post-Brexit EU trade deal as the “biggest disaster that any government has ever negotiated in the history of trade negotiations”.
His online retail business was hit closest after the Brexit negotiator David Frost failed to obtain a frictionless trade deal addressing sales to individual customers in the EU.
Spurrell said he had lost 20% of sales overnight after discovering he needed to provide a £180 health certificate on each order, including gift packs costing £25 or £30. He said the viability of his online retail had come to a “dead stop”.
After he embarked on a personal crusade to draw attention to the plight of UK exporters involving almost 200 media interviews around the world, he was invited to an online meeting with Victoria Prentis, a minister at the Department for ecosystem, Food and Rural Affairs. She suggested that emerging markets could compensate for the Brexit-related hole in the Cheshire Cheese Company’s finances.
Spurrell said he had pursued new business in Norway and Canada but post-Brexit trade deals sealed by the government had put barriers in place.
“We no longer have any ability to deal with the EU as our three distributors in Germany, France and Italy have said we have become too expensive because of the new checks and paperwork.
“And now we’ve also lost Norway since the trade deal, as duty for wholesale is 273%. Then we tried Canada but what the government didn’t tell us is that duty of 244% is applied on any consignment over $20 [£15].”
That meant Canadian customers who ordered a gift pack worth £50, including transport fees, were asked to pay £178 additional in duty when the courier arrived at their door, Spurrell said. “As you can imagine, customers were saying: ‘You can take that back, we don’t want it anymore’.”
Norwegian duty on a £30 cheese pack amounted to £190 additional, he said.
Spurrell is now pursuing the domestic market with greater vigour but says the cost of marketing has gone “by the roof” because all his competitors are having to do the same.
“Before we could sell across the EU, now we are all fishing in the same pond. We used to be the biggest online sellers but now we are absolutely bombarded with attacks by all our cheese rivals because they are buying all the ads on Google to try to beat us. These are competitors who would never have bothered us before,” he said.
The “sad” thing, Spurrell said, is that it is the small to medium-sized companies such as his, important employers up and down the country, have been hammered by Brexit and other trade deals hit by the government, instead of giant rivals.
He noted that the Canadian company Saputo, with a market capital of more than C$14bn (£8.3bn), had done well out of the Norwegian deal as producers of three of the four “premier” cheeses singled out for “considerably reduced tariffs”.
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