An oyster farmer has hit out at the mountain of Brexit red tape being imposed on exporters, warning that new rules will mean increased costs for British consumers.
In an interview with BylineTV, Tom Haward – whose family in Essex has farmed and sold oysters for more than 300 years – revealed that he had lost customers across Europe since the UK formally severed ties with Brussels earlier this month.
“We were supplying Spain, Belgium and Germany regularly – and sending a healthy amount,” Haward said.
“Through Brexit alone, we’ve lost them as customers. We physically can’t send oysters to them anymore because of the costs involved with that paperwork. It’s so impactful on what we do.”
Boris Johnson claimed on Wednesday that British fishermen should prepare for an “El Dorado” in the coming months – despite mounting complaints about the amount of paperwork now required of exporters.
The prime minister blamed “complications over form-filling” for the “barriers” some fishers are facing, but told MPs things will improve – and claiming that fabulous riches await.
But, Haward said, the myriad forms and signatures now required to export produce to Europe has caused his business to lose significant custom on the continent.
“It’s very time-consuming. We’ve basically lost our big customer in Spain, for instance, for cost reasons,” he said.
“On a Monday morning at 10am, our Spanish customer would say ‘I need 150 kilos of oysters, we need to know by 11am’. We can’t do that in the new system because there’s no way that, at 10am, I’ll then be able to get hold of my environmental health officer, to sign a certificate by the end of the day that day. I just wouldn’t be able to do.
“Margins are tight, whoever you are. With this paperwork, that’s going to squeeze our margins even more, and we will have to put that cost on the customer. We can’t swallow any more loss.
European businesses would be the beneficiaries, Haward warned. “We won’t compete with Danish oysters, French oysters, Irish oysters,” he said. “They can send their oysters all around Europe without any of that paperwork or hassle, at the snap of a finger.”
Despite Johnson’s promises, the Government has already promised seafood exporters hit by Brexit red tape and delays up to £100,000 in compensation.
Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce welcomed the announcement of “short-term assistance”, but said the Government needed to do more to support the sector.
“While we await the full detail of the package, we know that there will be questions around the extent to which it supports the entire supply chain, from fleet to export,” she said.
“Money will offer a much-needed sticking plaster covering the losses over the last few weeks, but to completely staunch the wound, the sector still needs a period of grace during which the systems must be overhauled so they are fit for purpose.”
Haward revealed that local fishermen and oystermen – many of whom, he said, voted for Brexit – are now “not very keen to talk about it”.
He added: “They’ve all been very pro-Brexit and thinking it was going to be something quite wonderful, but now – in the weeks since 1 January – they don’t want to talk about it.
“They don’t have an opinion anymore it seems. It’s not happening how they envisaged. I’m not quite sure what they envisaged, but whatever they thought would happen, hasn’t.”