British cheesemakers hurt as Brexit prevents trade

Expensive paperwork requirements resulting from Brexit have caused small scale British cheese manufacturers to miss out on trade.

The Ethical Dairy, who produce traditional unpasteurised cheese, have had to suspend accepting orders for delivery to Northern Ireland with immediate effect, citing paperwork as the issue.

This is due to the new “regulatory” border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol coming into force on the 1 January 2021.

Wilma Finlay, who founded the firm, said that they “would only restart sending to Northern Ireland if there was no need for a health certificate (required because cheese is a product of animal origin) and if there is no need for an organic inspection certificate with every single order. That alone costs £25. An average sale for us is £35. So it makes it unviable long or short term.”

Loosing buyers from Northern Ireland “isn’t too significant” she said, before saying that “in COVID times we need to keep our loyal customers, not loose them!”

When I asked her what she would like to see done to resolve this issue, she said that “the EU and UK need to resolve these two issues for small shipments. Things may well get addressed quickly if the tension in Northern Ireland rises any further, otherwise it could take years. This government isn’t interested in small businesses.” 

Cheese – Photo by Alexander Maasch on Unsplash

However, not all small scale cheese manufacturers have encountered such barriers in trade with Northern Ireland, as Simon Spurrell, who is managing director of both Hartington Creamery and the Cheshire Cheese Company, said their exports to Northern Ireland are “not being checked” as they are currently exploiting a loophole. 

The Royal Mail, which is the courier service they use to deliver all their goods, are exempt from checks due to their status as a universal service operator (USO), meaning that as Northern Ireland  is in the UK, they can bypass the rules and regulations being enforced as they are part of the UK’s infrastructure. 

Nonetheless, as a result of the Brexit deal being implemented from the start of the year, Simon Spurrell, said they have had a loss of revenue of “around £180,000 of online sales, that we expect to rise to £250,000, so we’ve lost our income immediately.”

On future investments in exports abroad, he said that “the safer option for us at the moment is two markets that we’re already involved in – the United States and Canada.”

Should these regulations continue to be enforced, British cheese and Dairy producers may continue to look across the Atlantic rather than across the English Channel. 

James Hodgson

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