The UK’s exit from the EU is proving a boon for some, a bane for others

Jo Francis
Monday, March 1, 2021

What has been the initial impact of Brexit on the UK’s printing industry?

A flavour of the immediate post-Brexit mood can be found on social media: search for #Brexit on LinkedIn and the top result is #BrexitChaos. On Twitter the biggest results are #BrexitReality and #BrexitCarnage.

How, then, is this carnage, chaos and Brexit reality playing out for the printing industry as UK-EU-UK trade adjusts to the new landscape? As with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, it depends who you are and what you do, and as always there’s also an element of luck involved.

UK trade printers, for example, can reasonably be expecting something of a windfall. There’s the potential for millions of pounds worth of work that was previously produced on the continent to be reshored – especially if that work is time sensitive. At the time of writing continental players including Vistaprint and Saxoprint had stopped offering express services to UK customers because of the post-Brexit customs and logistics delays, while Germany’s FlyerAlarm dramatically halted UK sales altogether, with speculation that others could follow.

Sarah Kilcoyne-Guilliam, head of sales and integration at Route 1 Print, says: “We have definitely seen a shift, clients have turned to us for reassurance instead of overseas suppliers.”

Whether this will be a temporary, or more permanent ‘Brexit bonus’ remains to be seen. Some continental printcos (Vistaprint and Tradeprint, Onlineprinters and Solopress) also have sister companies based in the UK that can help take the strain.

New border complications are causing headaches in both directions. The travails of Bauer Media’s Mojo magazine, which had to send its March issue to newsstands without the expected CD because the CDs were stuck somewhere on the continent, will surely have sent a shiver down the spine of many a production pro.

Bauer is headquartered in Germany, so it has a foot in both camps. If a multibillion-euro turnover pan-European giant can hit such a significant snag, what hope for the rest of us?

Another publisher reportedly had a problem with goods that were on a lorry carrying a mixed load. While their paperwork was fine, there were issues with other elements of the load so it all ended up being delayed at the border.

Meanwhile, BBC Gardeners’ World magazine can no longer include its usual seed packets on copies bound for Northern Ireland or the EU “due to new restrictions on moving plants and seeds overseas”.

Northern Ireland is, as Northside Graphics managing director Gary White puts it, in a “unique position”, which has been described as “the best of both worlds” by government officials – although there have been well-documented issues with foodstuffs, soil, and seeds.

For White, things are running “100% as normal for our shipments” and the firm has unfettered access to Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. “Because it’s paper, people don’t really care. If it was a pig, my god you would have a few issues!”

Many UK print bosses, and their admin teams, have devoted huge amounts of time preparing for something that was full of unknowns right up until the Brexit deal was eventually agreed at the eleventh hour. Little wonder the start of 2021 has proved to be a bumpy ride.

Peter Gunning, CEO at the Grafenia, says: “It’s been a pretty hairy few weeks. Even though our systems have generated commercial invoices for years, and we did all the work to tag our product lines with commodity codes and get our EORI numbers in place, we’ve still had disruption.”

Gunning has updated the branding at his UK and Ireland operations to reflect the fact that goods are produced locally. However, his EU trade will now be focused on EU makers.

“When France closed the border before Christmas, we had to switch production to local French Works Makers. Since the new year, all the couriers have been piling on new fees. With border delays and these extra costs, it seems we’ll have no choice but continue making products for the EU in the EU,” he adds.

Printcos that have, as previously encouraged by the government, built up their export business to the EU are particularly frustrated at the situation.

James Buffoni, managing director at the Ryedale Group, is also experiencing transport delays.

“We are exporting plant tags. These are in high demand for the spring, so any lost business tends to be of the greatest volume and won’t come around for another year. Frustratingly our new clients are delighted with our product and service from production, we just can’t get it to them consistently at the moment purely because of the transport issues.”

His experience is that things “have not run smoothly”.

“We set up for Brexit following the guidelines and were prepared to handle some teething problems. At best there are a few days delay in exports to EU, at worst we have had consignments delayed for weeks. There has been a lot of effort to adopt new procedures and to handle the precise paperwork requirements but in practice things are not yet clear and consistent throughout our supply chain, hence the mixed results.”

Buffoni has stopped taking time-sensitive orders until he knows transit times are reliable, a hugely frustrating situation for a firm that has a good opportunity to grow its export sales.

“We’re shipping the same goods to the same people for the same purposes and, so far, we have experienced increased costs in admin, management, transport and handling fees.”

Zoe Deadman, managing director at KCS Print in Cornwall, similarly details a long list of additional costs for her thriving export business providing integrated forms for the e-commerce market. “£30 per shipment for customs, £55 for the customs agent, £1,000 a quarter to have a fiscal representative in the EU,” she notes, while shipping costs that were previously £95/pallet have risen to £140, and there are also extra costs involved in heat treating the pallets. She points out that one of the biggest post-Brexit issues could be being overlooked: “All this work that’s been done over the past 10 years around ‘it’s great to export’, and actually the sales are just sliding away at a rate of knots. All of that progress in terms of exports is at risk. I don’t know whether the government realises it, or it’s all just being washed over.”

It is of course early days for the new systems and paperwork now required for trade between the UK and EU. As BPIF CEO Charles Jarrold points out, because the agreement came in “very late indeed”, neither side was able to benefit from a proper dry run, and the BPIF team has been busy fielding innumerable queries from members since the turn of the year. He says: “Some of it is teething issues and will adjust, and some of it is a real structural longer-term consequence, which won’t go away in the short-term. In the medium-term, maybe we’ll be looking at trying to refine the agreement. I kind of expect so.”

So that, then, is #BrexitReality. Opportunity for some. The absolute opposite for others.


THE LONG ROAD TO BREXIT

2013 January Prime minister David Cameron, under pressure from UKIP and his own MPs, promises to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU if the Tories win the 2015 General Election...

2015 May General Election. The Conservatives win...

2016 23 June Referendum is held. On a 72% turnout of eligible voters, 52% vote Leave, 48% Remain... July Cameron resigns, Theresa May becomes PM. Petition for second referendum is rejected... October May confirms Article 50 will be triggered before the end of March 2017

2017 February Government publishes Brexit White Paper strategy for leaving the EU... 29 March May triggers Article 50 and the start of two-year withdrawal process. UK is expected to leave the EU on 29 March 2019... April May calls snap election for 8 June. It results in a hung parliament. Tories reach £1bn ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with DUP to secure backing in key votes... June Negotiations between the UK and EU begin... December UK and EU say there will be no hard border in Ireland...

2018 March 21-month transition period provisionally agreed... July Theresa May publishes her Chequers plan. Brexit secretary David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson resign in protest... October May addresses business leaders and outlines intentions to preserve UK and EU frictionless access to each other’s markets for goods... November Draft withdrawal agreement agreed by both sides. The next day Brexit secretary Dominic Raab resigns. The agreement is endorsed by the EU27... December May postpones House of Commons vote on the deal...

2019 January House of Commons votes 432 to 202 against the deal... March Second and third votes on May’s deal result in defeat. May writes to European Council President Donald Tusk requesting Brexit is postponed to 30 June 2019. Rejected by EU leaders who propose two alternative dates on their terms. Parliament subsequently approves new exit dates of 12 April (if no deal is reached) or 22 May if a deal is agreed. Parliament does not approve the Withdrawal Agreement by 29 March... April EU27 agree extension until 31 October 2019... May Theresa May resigns as Tory leader... July Boris Johnson takes over as PM. David Frost appointed Brexit chief negotiator... September MPs back a bill aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit. Johnson’s motion for a General Election is defeated... 28 October A revised withdrawal agreement is agreed in principle. EU grants third extension to 21 January 2020... 29 October Johnson circumvents the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and triggers a General Election... December General Election held on 12 December. Conservatives win landslide of 80 seats. Bill ratifying the withdrawal agreement is approved by 358 votes to 234...

2020 January EU ratifies the withdrawal bill and on 31 January the UK’s membership of the EU ends after 47 years... February Transition period ending 31 December 2020 begins... March World Health Organisation confirms Covid-19 crisis is a pandemic... June Deadline to request an extension to the transition period passes... July UK government launches campaign to prepare the UK for the end of the transition period... August £650m package of investment for Northern Ireland announced... October Government publishes updated details on how the borders between Great Britain and the EU will work... 10 December Northern Ireland Protocol agreed... 24 December Brexit deal is agreed between UK and EU... 30 December Deal is passed by UK Parliament... 31 December Brexit transition period ends at 11pm. The UK leaves the EU Single Market and customs union. EU law ceases to apply to the UK...

2021 January Certain shipping companies start levying extra charges on shipments from the UK to the EU. Some EU online retailers stop delivering to the UK because of changes to VAT rules. Customs declarations are now required on most goods being sent from England, Wales or Scotland to Northern Ireland and certain food items also need checks and additional paperwork. A row over Covid vaccines results in EU triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which causes an outcry and hasty u-turn... February Government announces new £20m SME Brexit Support Fund, offering support to help small businesses adjust to new customs procedures, rules of origin, and VAT rules when trading with the EU.

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