Cheese, chocolate, and whisky exports from the U.K. to the EU nosedived in January 2021 with Brexit immediately wrecking food trade, as reported by the Guardian.
New trade figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) compared exports in January 2020 to January 2021. Cheese fell from £45.3 million to £6.8 million; chocolate fell from £41.4 million to £13.1 million, and whisky fell from £105.4 million to £38.9 million. While decreased need for goods used in restaurants and bars stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic is a factor, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) attributed the bulk of the decline to red tape and attendant costs introduced by Brexit.
While the impact of Brexit on the fishing industry has been at the fore since 1 January, with stories of rotten shellfish and the government misleading boats over the duration of an EU ban on exports, these figures offer a more wholesale indication of the damage wrought by leaving the EU. The rising bureaucratic costs are leading to maddening choices for producers and processors, with one sausage brand forced to use Danish pork over British because exporting has become prohibitive, while the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) attributed the stark declines to “groupage distribution is not working.” Groupage distribution allows multiple small businesses to take up proportionate amounts of space in individual lorries, but new export rules are modelled on “full-track haulage,” which, as its name suggests, involves one truck carrying only one cargo. If a business doesn’t have a truckload of cheese to export, it’s in trouble.
While the covid-19 crisis presented such an immediate existential threat to restaurants that it deferred the pain of Brexit, the latter has impacted other food businesses immediately and devastatingly. While the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says decreased January trade was “inevitable,” that doesn’t change the connotations for U.K. food businesses suddenly without one of their key revenue streams.