A SCOTTISH business owner has told how a year of the “nightmare” of Brexit has left his firm struggling to survive.

Jamie McMillan, managing director of Loch Fyne Seafarms, lost 60% of his market after crippling costs forced him to stop selling premium shellfish to Europe.

The firm’s staff of around 22 before Brexit has now been cut to 13 and he is now having to try to sell more to other parts of the world to keep his business going.

“Our worst fears over Brexit have become just a nightmare. It was even worse than what we could ever imagine it to be,” he told the Sunday National.

“I think the UK Government over the past number of months have rung true in what they actually are deep inside – they are rotten to the core.

After the Brexit transition period ended on December 31, 2020, McMillan said the first few weeks of the new year in 2021 were “an absolute disaster”.

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“There was no grace period to get used to the paperwork for anybody,” he said. “It was just one disaster to another and everyone was blaming each other. It was nobody’s fault, it was the system. I can’t be more angry about what happened. All of that early period we had huge problems, we lost a lot of money along the way.

“For example, one of the shipments we did in the early part of January took five days to arrive with our customer in France. It all arrived dead.

“It was a big order. It was just a joke, and everybody had problems.

“We did eventually get some sort of compensation from the UK Government, but it wasn’t enough for the damage that it caused to business.”

The initial chaos began to settle down, although McMillan said the additional 40 pages of paperwork per consignment meant an extra three hours’ work every morning for a member of staff.

But it was only when invoices for the use of groupage services – which organise shared shipping of loads for smaller firms – began to be issued that the full impact of new costs became clear. McMillan said: “When that came in I could not believe it. All you had before was your pallet transport fee at £50-£60 a pallet.

“It became apparent in the early part of March, when invoices started coming in for January for exporting to the EU, that this is the cost of what it is for us to sell to the EU – on paperwork, on customs fees and import declarations and health certificates. It all added up and averaged out at about £500 a day.”

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He added: “That doesn’t matter if you have got one pallet or 10 pallets. The bigger companies are fine with it as they are filling their own trucks and it doesn’t cost them per kilo as much. But as we are a smaller premium business, that is where it has hit. A lot of the small guys are being hugely financially affected by this.”

In May, McMillan reluctantly took the decision to stop selling to the EU because of the additional costs.

This has resulted in a loss for his business of 60% of turnover compared to 2019, which he said could not just be “replaced overnight” by targeting other markets.

He said: “It was either stop selling to the EU or close the business. Before Brexit we were probably 22 staff, we are now down to 13.

“So that gives you an idea of the loss of the turnover that has affected the business.

“I have downsized the business and now we are focusing on the UK and Far East market.”

McMillan said this has included applying for a Scottish Government grant to try to expand capacity to sell to the Far East.

But he said: “At the moment the business is struggling to survive without selling to the EU market, there is no getting away from that.

“We still sell to the UK and Far East markets, and are trying to grow further into the Far East market, but replacing 60% of turnover doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years.”

HE added: “This is the true fact of the matter – it is easier and cheaper to sell to China than it is to the EU, to France. That is absolutely crazy. That does not make sense, it is absolute madness.”

With his business which he built up now battling to survive, McMillan is furious at the politicians who implemented the Brexit deal.

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He said: “I’ve been working 18 and 20-hour days just to keep the business open, just trying to get through this and hopefully there is something better at the other side, but without that market in the EU it is very difficult.

“How do we replace that 60% of turnover? We can’t start reselling to the EU again at these costs.

“They said they signed up to a deal that was no tariffs. To me these costs are a tariff.

“Just looked at the media coverage over the past few months to tell you what is going on with them.

“I couldn’t be more angry against the UK Government at the moment.”