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Samantha Cameron talks of Brexit challenges for fashion brand Cefinn

Lauretta Roberts
28 January 2021

Samantha Cameron, founder of premium fashion brand Cefinn and wife of former Prime Minister David Cameron, has talked of the challenges her business has faced since the new Brexit deal came into force on 1 January.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour, Cameron said her brand had faced difficulties getting products through ports and said she would urge the Government to speak to businesses, in particular small businesses, about the challenges they are currently facing.

David Cameron proposed offering the UK electorate a referendum on the country's membership of the EU as part of his election pitch in 2013. Despite his government backing remain, the referendum was lost in 2016 and he stood down immediately.

Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised he had a deal that would result in "frictionless" trade between the EU and UK after the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020. Negotiations went to the wire and when the trade agreement was announced just before Christmas, businesses were hugely relieved.

However, when the detail of the deal became clear, the fashion industry was hit with huge challenges centring around VAT status and the new "rule of origin" that meant only goods that were majority made in the UK and EU could travel freely. In fashion, a vast number goods are either made outside of the EU or from fabric sourced from outside of the EU meaning they incur tariffs.

Since 1 January many shipments have been held at ports and customers, both at wholesale and e-commerce level, have been hit with unexpected customs and import fees and additional VAT charges.

Some major brands are getting around the issue by using "bonded warehouses" or establishing warehouses in the EU, and indeed Government officials have been advising businesses to do so, but this solution is not a practical or affordable one for smaller brands.  Some retail brands have even threatened to dump goods stuck in limbo and have them burned as it would be more cost effective than attempting to get them into the country and back out again into the EU.

Cameron told Women's Hour host Emma Barnett: “Getting into the ports has been challenging. We’ve had to air freight more than we’d like to into the UK, and although there have been no issues trading with the US or outside of the EU, definitely until they sort out what I hope are some of the teething issues […] it’s challenging and difficult.”

Asked what she would say to Boris Johnson, Cameron replied: "I think [the Government] need to talk to all of the businesses out there who are in a similar position to me, of which there are lots. And it is the smaller businesses because we can't afford to have warehouses in Europe and that sort of thing.

"I'm sure there are ways of sorting it out but it does need to be looked at because otherwise we can grow our business in Europe," she said. has spoken to a number of fashion brands who have experienced similar issues and they fear matters will get worse not better as the UK is currently in the midst of a "grace period" that runs until the end of March.

“Brexit is proving to be every bit the nightmare we thought it would be. Various new documents are now needed. The main one is the Country of Origin, or COO. The ‘deal’ isn’t really tariff free. For it to be ‘free’ the goods you import or export need to be predominantly made in UK or EU. Currently, EU are accepting self-certified COO’s but that’s because we are in the ‘grace period’ until the end of March. Thereafter it’s likely they will insist on proof of origin. So, more paperwork. We are being charged more by our shippers too," said Simon Carter founder of the eponymous fashion brand.

Read more on how brands are coping with the new deal with the EU in our exclusive feature: Brexit, borders and bureaucracy: how British fashion brands are coping.

We have also quizzed logistics experts on what exactly the changes are what brands now need to have in place in order to trade smoothly with the EU. Read more here. 

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