Brits now know what Brexit means — extra paperwork. Boris Johnson opened 2021 by hailing the “amazing moment for this country” of being free of the ties that had bound the U.K. to the European Union.
“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he told citizens after clinching a last minute deal with Brussels.
But the early days of Brexit have been characterized more for Brits by extra costs, delays and paperwork than any tangible new freedoms. Here are five ways that the U.K.’s break with Brussels has got suddenly very real.
The distribution chains for niche retailers and businesses selling high-end goods are already feeling the pinch as they settle into the Brexit saddle.
Brooks England — which produces high-end leather bike saddles — has posted a message on its online store saying it won’t be able to sell items into its home country. Everything made at its West Midlands factory is first shipped to the firm’s distribution center in Italy.
Star Trek star William Shatner identified the issue facing small retailers back in October. Shatner said it was “too much for a small store” like his online merch outlet to foot the bill for completing Value Added Tax (VAT) forms now needed to ship to Brits. VAT in the U.K. is now being collected at the point of sale, and online retailers need to register to collect the tax and fill out the required paperwork with tax authority HM Revenue and Customs at an added cost. The move means Shatner won’t take U.K. orders.
Another online bike retailer, Dutch Bike Bits, which specializes in parts, has made clear the U.K. is the only country in the world it won’t ship to because of the new tax regime.
— Graham Lanktree
British consumers based or traveling in EU countries – and vice versa – will no longer be able to access programming from their home country via streaming services like Sky and Netflix.
Due to the end of “digital portability” between the EU and the U.K., British television classics like “Only Fools and Horses” that were previously available to Sky’s EU-based Brit customers are now restricted to viewers in the U.K. And the live Premier League games that once aired on Amazon Prime will now be streamed into British living rooms only, the service confirmed to streaming guide Cord Busters.
Sky and Netflix declined POLITICO’s request for comment, referring instead to their Frequently Asked Questions pages. “Certain rules mean people within the EU can stream content across all EU countries,” states Sky’s website. “From 1 January 2021, the U.K. will no longer be part of the EU, so we won’t be able to provide this service in the same way.” Amazon Prime and Disney Plus did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
There is hope for EU-based Brits itching for their next home TV fix, however. If the U.K. and the EU manage to reach a similar “cross-border portability” deal to that attained by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, normal streaming service could resume.
— Leonie Cater
Less than a week in and, as feared, the sandwich has taken a hit — though on the other side of the Channel to what was expected.
Paris residents craving a fresh bite for their midday break were welcomed by empty racks at some British stores in the French capital, as companies struggled to restock fresh and pre-made snacks and meals, citing supply chain disruptions brought on by Brexit.
In one Marks & Spencer Food shop in the 16th arrondissement, a note pinned to an empty fridge informed customers that “due to the latest government decisions concerning the transport of goods between the U.K. and France, we have not been able to receive our shipment today.” A spokesperson for the company said the impact was being felt “mainly on food products” but declined to cite specific items. Photos of the empty racks shared on Twitter show that the problem was affecting ready-made meals containing fresh produce or animal derived products such as sandwiches, mushroom pappardelle and chicken risotto.
“It is predominantly Brexit related as we transition into new ways of working,” the M&S spokesperson said. “We are on day five and I cannot give a specific time frame,” on a solution, they added, saying the company was focusing on its Paris stores and working to solve the issue “as quickly as possible.”
Other M&S stores elsewhere in Paris, like in the northern city of Lille, refused to comment on the shortages. Competing British food retailers in the EU had no immediate comment but could be facing similar struggles as officials enforce the deal’s novel restrictions on the import of animal-derived products.
Closures of other M&S shops in Paris were also reported on Tuesday, but the spokesperson said that concerned “a separate issue unrelated to Brexit.”
— Gabriela Galindo
Brexit has come at a price for parcel deliveries to and from the U.K.
Following the end of the transition period on December 31, the U.K. dropped out of the Deutsche Post DHL’s favorable price “zone 1” for EU countries, into the more expensive zone 2 it shares with Switzerland to cover higher costs linked to Brexit, a spokesperson for the company said. That means the cost of sending a 5 kg parcel to the U.K. with the firm jumped from €15.99 to €26.90. Business customers face surcharges — something FedEx/TNT and UPS have also announced.
Customers may also have to pay extra if their delivery exceeds exemption limits to duck import sales taxes or excise duties. Cross-Channel transport has calmed after a surge in demand clogged ports and EU countries’ travel restrictions in response to the new coronavirus strain in the U.K. halted deliveries in the final weeks of 2020.
DPD nonetheless warned that packages traveling from the U.K. to Ireland are experiencing delays of up to 48 hours “as a result of operational changes due to Brexit,” but added that it expects service to return to normal “very shortly.”
— Hanne Cokelaere
Since the new year, many Brits living in EU countries found themselves barred from re-entering their new homelands because of paperwork mishaps, confusion over rules and overzealous airline staff and police.
British passengers traveling home to Germany said they were wrongfully blocked from boarding flights because they didn’t have a specific residence document on them — even though they had other papers that proved they lived there.
One woman said she was turned away from her Lufthansa flight even after supplying her rental and work contract, German tax number and health insurance card.
British nationals traveling back to Spain faced similar problems over the weekend. Many passengers found their pre-Brexit residency documentation (incorrectly) refused by airline staff, who blocked Brits from a flight to Madrid. In Barcelona airport, Brits arriving from Heathrow were told by police in Spain to get back on a flight to London, according to one passenger. He said that he eventually managed to avoid deportation because he has dual EU-UK nationality. Those without that weren’t so lucky.
The British embassy in Spain’s capital wrote on social media: “This should not be happening.”
— Mari Eccles