U.K. Labour Slams Brexit ‘Denial, Bluster’ as Traders Struggle

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The U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party accused the government of “denial and bluster” over Brexit-related disruption to trade, saying ministers failed to prepare adequately for new red tape that has hit firms.

“The government seems to have no plan,” said Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister, who has written to cabinet minister Michael Gove about the impact on companies. “Our British businesses are being disrupted and stifled by reams of costly new red tape and bureaucracy.”

Her letter came as MakeUK, Britain’s largest manufacturing lobby group, said 60% of businesses have experienced “significant disruption” due to new Brexit-related paperwork. Firms have faced lengthy delays to export goods into the EU, and products such as fish and meat have been particularly badly hit, according to a survey of 189 companies by the group.

Reeves said the government hasn’t trained enough customs professionals to process the documents needed for trade with the EU. An industry estimate pre-Brexit said an extra 50,000 would be required, but MakeUK chief executive Stephen Phipson said in January that the actual figure recruited was more like 12,000.

‘Shortfall’

“This is not the first time I have written asking for an urgent update on how the government plans to deal with this shortfall,” Reeves said in the letter to Gove, who leads the government’s Brexit response. “Working this out is crucial for solving some of this disruption for businesses.”

The U.K. spent 84 million pounds ($115 million) in the run-up to Brexit on supporting the customs intermediaries sector, including grants for training, but the funds ran out in December. The government has consistently declined to put a figure on how many people were trained.

Many customs clearance firms -- which handle such paperwork -- have been overwhelmed by the increase in demand and have stopped taking on new work, said Nicholas Lowe, director at Strategy Advantage, which provides advice on logistics.

“They’re struggling,” Lowe said. “A lot of things can be fixed, but it will take time.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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