‘A multiple pile-up in the fog’: wine agent’s fury at Brexit red tape | Brexit

A major British wine agent has described how his business is facing its biggest threat in 30 years because the government did not think through Brexit.

Daniel Lambert who imports up to 2m bottles of wine a year for 300 retailers including supermarkets, said he is unable to import wine from the EU because of the complex and unworkable HM Revenue and Customs system, which requires companies to work out one of 10,000 different combinations to describe the product they want to import.

“We were a pretty good little business, we were doing quite well, until Brexit came along,” he said.

“While we knew Brexit would be a car crash we did not know it was going to be a multiple pile-up in the fog with fatalities,” he tweeted in a thread over the weekend that has resonated with thousands on Twitter.

“HM Revenue and Customs are being as helpful as they can be, but it’s not their fault they are civil servants. This is the government’s fault and they don’t give a shit about business. Boris Johnson said ‘fuck business’ and this is exactly what they are doing,” he said.

“We knew they would screw it up, so I’m not surprised. I’m just disappointed,” he told the Guardian.

Lambert, who is temporarily unable to import wine from the EU, said he would survive, but that ultimately consumers will lose out because there will still be a mountain of paperwork – even if the initial problems were sorted out.

“Wine per bottle on retail will increase by at least £1 per bottle for mass market products; for niche small batch wines you are looking at £1.50 or even £2.00 on the bottle prices. There’s another of those Brexit ‘dividends’,” he said.

Lambert started his business in Bridgend in 1992 and said this was the biggest threat he had faced, leading him to consider leaving the country when his children complete their education.

His was one of the many businesses that thought they were fully prepared, taking detailed steps to mitigate against the worst possible scenario, a no-deal Brexit, five months ago.

He went as far as setting up a bonded warehouse system to enable all the customs and duties paperwork to be done in house rather than on the border where they would face impediments in a no-deal scenario.

“It was very complicated to get to that point and in fact HMRC told us they were surprised at how prepared we were.

“By 9 December we had, as far as we were concerned, done everything we needed to do.

“Now I literally cannot bring wine in from the EU,” he said.

At the heart of the issue is a complex piece of paperwork, called Chief, that was used for imports from non-EU countries before Brexit.

“Now you would think that government would want to make using Chief as easy as possible as now there are millions of businesses having to use it,” said Lambert.

“Wrong, this is the only HMRC system where there is no number to call. Just an email with a five-day turn around. Remember that when government say they are doing all they can to help, “ said Lambert.

His company was familiar with the system as it had for years imported wines from places such as the US and Australia. The system worked for him “like clockwork” until Brexit hit.

It requires him to answer 64 questions just to import a bottle of wine and can easily go wrong when it comes to matching a commodity code and a customs procedure code (CPC) as that varies according to the type of wine and its alcohol strength.

“If I remember correctly, Chief has 10,000 different combinations depending on what type of import you’re doing, depending on the commodity code itself. So you have to get the combination between the commodity code and the CPC code exactly right, otherwise [it] won’t allow the declaration to happen, the system won’t give you the green light,” he said.

Lambert said the system is “antiquated” and so complex even companies like his that are used to using Chief have come a cropper with next to zero meaningful help from HMRC.

“I originally put a query into HMRC on 4 January to ask what’s the CPC code for this [a particular wine] and they said it depends on your declaration, after five days. That was the answer. Well that’s not really helping is it?”



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