‘It’s a disaster’: How British stores in Spain are being hit by Brexit

With reports that UK food exports to Spain have dropped by more than half due to Brexit, The Local spoke to Inge Barker of A Taste of Home stores in Spain to find out how it's affecting her business.

'It's a disaster': How British stores in Spain are being hit by Brexit
How are British supermarkets in Spain being affected by Brexit? Photo: Tolga AKMEN / AFP

UK food and drink exports to the EU are suffering a huge decline, costing the industry €2 billion in losses. 

Among Member States, Spain is the country that’s seen the biggest drop in British produce arriving to its shores since Brexit, a 54 percent fall in 2021 when compared to 2019 figures. 

The Local Spain spoke to Inge Barker who runs A Taste of Home – a chain of three British shops in Barcelona, Sitges and Cubelles in Catalonia – who told us how the situation is affecting her. 

How has your store/business been affected by the drop in food exports from the UK?  

“We’ve definitely been feeling it, Brexit has not been good for our business. With the drop in exports, extra costs, and red tape, it’s a total disaster. 

I have three shops and lots of staff, at the moment, they are my main priority,” she said. 

Are there any particular products that are affected more than others? 

“Yes, at the moment it’s the meat and dairy which is being affected the most. This is because we now need to get a vet certificate for any animal products we want to import, and for this, we are forced to pay £100 on each order.

Right now we are ok for meat because we made lots of advance orders, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. There is also going to be an issue with Christmas products. We ordered our Christmas products such as crackers and puddings back in June, but now sellers are telling us they’re out of stock already. 

Because all the crackers and other Christmas things like that are made in China costs have risen for these too and have added an extra level of problems. For an order that used to cost €900, it has now risen to something ridiculous like €5,000. 

If you’re wanting a traditional British Christmas fare in Spain this year, you’ll have to buy your products early,” Barker warned. 

Will marmite become harder to find in Spain? Photo: Esme Fox

Has this affected other costs too?

“Yes, everything is now more expensive. Transport costs have risen by £100 and we also need to pay 5 percent of the costs of goods on top of that. In addition, we are forced to pay extra for heat-treated palettes to be allowed into the EU.

Imagine that on your tin of corned beef you’re having to add all those extra costs, that’s going to be a very expensive can of beef.

Although not to do with Brexit, electricity prices have also gone sky high here in Spain and we are now getting bills of around €1,000 per month per shop.”

READ ALSO: Why is electricity in Spain more expensive than ever?

“People just don’t realise all the extra costs that are involved. They tell me ‘oh I can get a can of baked beans in the UK for 80p, why are you selling it for more?’ They have no idea how much it actually costs to get that can of beans here. In the UK there is only VAT to pay on luxury food items, but here in Spain, we have to pay VAT on all food products too.”

Are you able to source alternatives such as from Ireland for example? Is this easier? 

“Most of our products are English and that’s what our customers want, so we can’t always source alternatives from Ireland. However, the transport is cheaper direct from Ireland, but we still have to pay import duties and VAT if we source products from there, so it doesn’t make it a lot cheaper.”

Are you having to raise your prices as a result?

“Up until now, we haven’t put up our prices, but soon everyone will be putting prices up and we won’t have a choice.

We also supply supermarkets all over Spain and some in Portugal. We will be able to survive this, but I know a lot of other British supermarkets in Spain are already in trouble and are having to close down due to rising costs and difficulty sourcing products.”

What are your most popular products that you fear may be affected or are already being affected by this? 

“The product which we’re seeing being affected the most right now is clotted cream. We sell our clotted cream to hotels in Spain too, and even though we buy it from a Spanish supplier, they are having trouble now sourcing it from the UK.” 

What do you see the future of British food exports being in Spain?

“Well, many of the shelves in the UK are empty now and our shelves are full. At the moment, we have a fantastic stock and have cornered the market on marmite, so hopefully we will be ok, but I don’t know what will happen with British exports in the future,” she concluded. 

READ ALSO: Brexit news roundup: All the latest info for Brits in Spain

Member comments

  1. If you’re paying import duty and VAT (that can’t be reclaimed) on food brought in from Ireland – another EU country – you’re doing it wrong. Our local Overseas Supermarket branch has taken on several great Irish brands to help fill the holes – small-minded customers that won’t accept those are likely what got the UK into this mess in the first place.

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Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?