Brexit bites for consumers

Cathy Rogers

If you have tried to buy something online from an EU country since 1 January 2021, you might have found it cost you rather more than you were expecting … thanks to Brexit! And if you’ve attempted to send a parcel to friends in an EU country, you will have experienced the joys of filling out detailed customs declarations forms, in addition to higher postage costs.

I’ve heard a myriad of such anecdotes and for many it has felt like the first tangible impact of Brexit. Here are some recent examples:

Anna: Had to pay an additional £27 for customs clearance charges on wallpaper ordered from Germany.

Rebecca: Tried to buy a plant from a gardening company in the Netherlands – they no longer export to the UK due to Brexit conditions. They used to ship over 600 varieties per shipment, which would now generate a mountain of paperwork. It is currently too costly and impractical to ship to the UK.

Dwayne: Had to pay an unexpected £20 for tax on musical equipment ordered from Germany.

Ali: Ordered some slippers from a Danish company, but the forwarder wasn’t allowed to ship parcels to the UK. The order had to be cancelled.

Josh: Had to pay £450 more than in pre-Brexit times for samples from Austria for his UK-based company. The supplier had also been obliged to fill out several additional forms.

It’s clear that Brexit is hitting your average British consumer. Johnson’s deal certainly doesn’t feel much like a ‘free trade deal’ in reality. So what choice is there for the British consumer buying from the EU? It’s either soak up the extra costs or don’t make the purchase. Brexiters might argue that this is a good thing – British consumers will turn to UK-based companies to meet their needs. But even taking that potential outcome into consideration, it’s clear that Brexit has reduced choice for ordinary British people. And it must also be recognised that any UK company relying on imports from EU countries will be adversely affected by extra red tape and higher transportation costs. And UK-based companies may start charging customers more in response to having less competition. Prices for brits will inevitably rise.

Many Brexit impacts currently feel fairly remote to the average person on the street, partly due to the overwhelming nature of the Covid pandemic. But it’s likely that most will know someone who has found themselves paying import tax on a purchase or who has faced the prospect of filling out a lengthy customs declaration form just to send a birthday present – each situation a little reminder that we have ‘Brexited’ and these are the consequences.

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