A British wine wholesaler who last year criticised Brexit as the biggest threat to his business in 30 years has decided to leave the UK after post-Brexit paperwork left him with a £150,000 hole in revenue.
Daniel Lambert, who supplies Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and 300 independent retailers, is moving to Montpelier in France later this week with his wife and two teenage children.
There he will set up a French company to export back to his own company in Wales.
He said the only way he could get around the “incredibly complicated” paperwork for importing alcohol was to set up a French company and export into the UK instead and do the paperwork in the EU himself.
“I am doing what the government was suggesting, which is to have a company here and in Europe to mitigate the impact of Brexit,” he said.
“What I’m doing will enable me to import and export into an out of the EU within the company itself, so that we mitigate all of the cost of importing into the UK,” he said.
Daniel Lambert Wines imports more than 2m bottles of wine a year and saw business boom during the pandemic, with revenues up by about £500,000 as locked down consumers replaced the visits to the pub with home supplies.
But the end of the Brexit transition agreement in January ate into any profit with red tape costing his company “between £100,000 and £150,000”, he said.
His Twitter posts about the Brexit regulations have a brisk following among fellow businesses as he was one of the earliest to come to terms with the 200 pages of paperwork per consignment.
“In just one week I will finally leave Brexitland for good. Let me know if anyone ever finds those sunlit uplands. Not expecting an answer anytime soon,” he posted last week.
Before Brexit, transporting wine across the Channel was relatively straightforward.
After Brexit, it has turned into a nightmare with hauliers fleeing the sector because of the complexity of the additional paperwork. All goods imported must be accompanied by paperwork detailing a commodity code and other information such as origin and destination of the cargo.
But wine imports require specialist expertise. For a start, each type of wine has an individual commodity code depending on the variety of grape, the type of wine, the alcohol strength, the size of the container it is being imported in and whether it comes from a protected designation of origin.
According to the government website there are 361 different commodities in the wine category alone. A pallet is made up of different wine cases, each one of them will attract additional charges.
Lambert said this had proved a massive deterrent for logistics firms with the number of hauliers now prepared to transport alcohol down from “hundreds” to just “four or five”, allowing brokers to charge up to £400 per consignment.
“The premiums that are now being paid to move alcohol, particularly across the border, are quite incredible. Brokers have found themselves doing pretty much what they like in terms of charging because so few are willing to do it,” he said.
By setting up a company in France, Lambert will be able to obtain a French economic operators registration (EORI) number required to export into Britain in addition to the UK EORI he retains in his British company for importing.
For Lambert, it is complicated but the only post-Brexit way of continuing to trade in Britain as it will enable him to legally export and import while cutting out the middle agent charging up to £150,000 a year for paperwork.
“It is absolutely incredible that in the 21st century people are being in effect barred from importing from Europe unless they pay brokers lots of money,” he said.
He described claims by the UK government that Brexit is done as “fatuous”, as many small- to medium-sized businesses could not cope with trade barriers that now exit for anyone who trades with Europe.