A Kent brewery chosen to help champion export opportunities for the government after Brexit has revealed that burdensome customs checks and paperwork have left it with just one remaining customer in the EU.
The Old Dairy Brewery in Kent – a Department for International Trade export champion for the south-east – appeared in a government video last year promoting the potential to boost Brexit export sales.
However its exports of bottled and keg Kent ale to countries including Italy, Germany and Sweden have slumped since the UK left the EU because of the onerous paperwork.
The brewery now has one European customer, a Berlin pub operator who travels to England by van to pick up the beer. The value of the Kent brewery’s annual beer exports have fallen from £600,000 to £2,000.
Virginia Hodge, export manager at the brewery, based at Tenterden, said: “Some transport companies won’t take alcohol now because of all the transit documents you need. I used to be able to make up a case of beer and send it by courier [to Europe] and now I have to send it through the full customs declaration. Our customers in Europe say they want to take British beer, but it’s just not cost effective. They’ve got to do a lot more paperwork.”
She said the brewery’s one remaining European customer had faced multiple challenges. She said: “The first time he came over, we were up all night trying to get him through customs at Dover and out of the country.
“He was stuck because of the paperwork. He used to come over for just one night, but now it takes four days because of all the problems.”
Hodge said small businesses were not given sufficient support. She said: “There is nobody to ask and there is no system.” She said advisers on government helplines referred questions about export problems to the government website.
Goods exports from the UK to the EU reached £16.9bn in May, the highest level since figures started in 1997. It is, however, smaller traders who have particularly struggled with the additional paperwork required for exports after Brexit.
The Old Dairy Brewery now hopes to boost its EU business once again by consolidating orders with other small breweries. It is now overseeing an export collective that it hopes will help increase the trade in British beers.
Hodge said: “We hope the export collective will make us more attractive to overseas importers. We’re trying to get some beer at the moment out for a trade show in Munich, but the paperwork is massive.”
She added it was “ironic” that the brewery had been selected to promote potential opportunities after Brexit, but said she hoped the collective would help overcome the bureaucratic challenges now involved in selling to European customers.
Andrew Griffith, the minister for exports, said: “We know businesses have had to get to grips with new rules post-Brexit. We are helping more businesses seize new opportunities, and our export strategy is giving them the tools they need.”