Mark’s blog…

We have avoided getting involved in the whole Brexit debate as we have various opinions here at Rathfinny, probably echoing the rest of the country, and lately, it’s become quite a polarising issue. Group polarisation, discussed by Daniel Finkelstein in The Times last week, has taken over with each side holding more and more extreme views. However, we run a new and expanding English wine business and, as we move ever closer to the 29th March, I thought that I should share the concerns we have of exiting the EU without a deal. But, before you all start shouting at your screen, let me say that I’m not trying to make a political statement, what I’m trying to explain with this blog are the very real, practical issues that we may face in a no-deal scenario.

Importing issues – It is clear to the majority of observers that ‘no deal’ will inevitably lead to longer waiting times at ports in France and England. We have done as much contingency planning as we can, such as pre-ordering all the bottles, corks, cages and as much capital equipment as we can, that we will need for the next year (which hasn’t helped with our cash flow), but we need seven new fermentation and blending tanks, to manage last year’s record harvest and for our anticipated harvest in 2019. We can’t get them here until May, and we need them before bottling in June. Any delay would be very damaging for our business, plus they will currently arrive tariff and VAT free. If we leave the EU without a deal then what will the tax situation be and will we get them here before June? Now you could say that this is just a short-term inconvenience, however, it’s not clear what will happen in the medium term. We’re still a fledgling industry, so we don’t have the infrastructure established to provide for the wine industry, so we rely on our European partners to provide much of our equipment. For example, we have to import all our bottles from the continent, no bottle manufacturer in the UK can make sparkling wine bottles, and most of our plant and machinery comes from Europe. One thing is certain, it will surely involve a lot more paperwork without a deal.

Exporting headaches – When we export our wines, they are typically shipped to Europe first and coalesced (joined together with other goods), into larger shipments heading to the same place. They are then put into containers that are exported via Rotterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg. Many containers are shipped from UK ports such as Southampton but they are unlikely to hold wine, as we rarely ship a whole container load at a time. If we leave without a deal that coalescence will be very tricky: Our wines, unless they are kept in a bonded warehouse, may attract duty when shipped into the EU, and may attract a different rate of duty to the wine it is being shipped with.

Bear in mind that Rotterdam is by far the largest port in the EU, dealing with over 460 million tonnes of cargo every year and some 10-12% of that comes to and from the UK. If you want to understand more about the issues facing Rotterdam, please read the following article.

Software issues – We also have the added complication that the Customs Handling Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) software, which currently records all imports and exports, is being upgraded to the Customs Declaration System (CDS). Our understanding is that the CHIEF system is not able to cope with the increased trade and apparently constantly fails. The new CDS software was only rolled out in January of this year (2019) and it is hoped will be ready by March. Ask yourself, when has the government ever introduced software that works and is delivered on time? Hopefully, it will, but it’s already six years late in delivery and the UK needs that system to cope with the estimated six-fold increase in trade from March 2019 in a ‘no-deal’ scenario.

These are just some of the issues that may affect us, a small but growing business in Sussex, that currently provides employment for over thirty people and seasonal employment for a further one hundred and fifty. Now imagine what a larger integrated manufacturer is facing in a no-deal scenario.

I’m not saying that Brexit is a good or bad idea. The referendum held in 2016 showed that a majority wanted to leave the EU, so the government is trying to carry out the wishes of the majority in that referendum. However, what I’m trying to express is the uncertainty that this debate is having for business in the UK and elsewhere. I’m trying to explain the real practical implications that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit might have on a small business like ours.

Ultimately, after forty years of membership of the European Community (EU), we are now so interwoven that we need to agree a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, which will hopefully allow frictionless trade with Europe and the rest of the world. That is in all of our interests. What is not in the UK’s or the EU’s interest is to leave without a deal. #NoToNoDeal