Easy, both are man-made problems, they are both slow burners and have been looming for years and they will both cause unpredictable problems that will run and run. Of course, climate change will be many orders of magnitude greater impact, but you get the idea!
At the start of the year I ordered a DVD drive from what I thought was an Irish supplier. Silly me without giving it a lot of thought, I ordered the drive from a .ie site. I was surprised when I received the delivery tracking details indicating UK origin. I was lucky that time – the value of the shipment was less than €50 and the package arrived as scheduled. Last week I had to order a new PC from Microsoft. It wasn’t planned but I had a hardware failure out of warranty, and Microsoft were good enough to accept some liability and gave me a good deal on a replacement. Speaking to the Microsoft agent she confirmed there were no shipping problems and said the delivery was confirmed for three days from order. Well the delivery didn’t happen, and when I tracked the shipment, I found it was sitting in a warehouse in the UK with a status of, “The package is delayed due to a Brexit related disruption. We are adjusting delivery plans as quickly as possible.” Three days later the status changes to delivery in three days. I’m not actually desperate for the delivery I have good backup, but I have a vision of a warehouse and supply chain in crisis mode, giving customers’ some palliative information to keep the situation from crashing altogether. Before confirming the order, I did discuss with the agent that the shipment would be free of any additional customs, tax and other charges, but that’s now in the back of my mind. And this is not a €50 purchase! See below . . .
But my problems are minor compared to what’s going on in the real world. I give you a couple of quotes from the Guardian 23rd January, . . amid claims from Boris Johnson that its people and its businesses were now free to live and trade as they wished – UK companies that export to the EU, and EU ones that send goods here, are beginning to realise that the reverse is true. And so are their customers. . . . It’s not just the British fishing crews famous musicians, . . . rather it is millions of hard-working people running, and employed in, less romantic and exotic small businesses who are feeling utterly let down and wondering if their companies will even survive.
Take Andrew Moss, managing director of small company Horizon, based in Cambridgeshire. The last three weeks, he says, have been a living nightmare. “Soft Brexit – there is no such thing. This is horrific,” he says. “We celebrated the Brexit deal with champagne over Christmas but when we woke up and realised that this car crash was happening, we thought, oh my God!” The problems he has encountered since 1 January are many, including more forms and several extra Brexit-related charges for exporting into the EU that will eat into profit margins. But even worse, he discovered from customers in Europe that they were being asked by couriers to pay VAT upfront on the goods he was sending to them – as a condition, in effect, of getting customs clearance – and the customers, unsurprisingly, were refusing. I am certainly worried I may get this message any day now, and of course, I will refuse to pay and insist on a credit from Microsoft, or better a shipment from an EU location.
Then in the last 24 hours we have heard that there are emerging problems in the Northern Ireland ports; workers involved in carrying out customs checks are coming under threat from “unknown sources”; the NI government and the EU have withdrawn their staff for safety reasons. Now this feels like it’s a political powder keg just waiting to blow. Let’s hope cool heads will prevail.
Brexit has been part of our lives for the last four years. Like Andrew Moss we might have thought it would go away, and while we would have to adjust to the new realities, this would soon settle down. We did expect some difficulties at Dover but we were reassured that this would be temporary. Little did we think there’s a whole host of issues that are going to emerge; and clearly the full extent of the turbulence is yet to be understood. We have some way to run.
Coda: The delivery date of my Microsoft shipment has now gone out to the 8th February. I spoke to Microsoft Ireland, and no surprise I was passed to a UK office who handle all Microsoft Ireland sales! That’s how close the UK and Ireland operations are. I was told a) the Brexit related shipment issues are a known problem and it will be all down to UPS. Microsoft can do nothing. and b) that the addition of VAT for EU shipments is again a known issue and that Microsoft commit to pick up that cost. When the shipper requests the VAT payment, they are asking customers to pick up the cost and they will credit back immediately. All very time consuming, and while it may not break the Microsoft bank, it might be very serious for smaller companies such as my case study above. I just wonder how long it will take before the Microsoft Ireland Sales operation broken out of the UK and established as a standalone entity in Ireland?