The chief executives of luxury fabrics, wall coverings and upholstery brands Designers Guild, Osborne & Little, Colefax and Fowler, Romo, Edmund Bell, and Sanderson have twice written to the Prime Minister about new duties and red tape. So far, they have not had a reply to either letter from No 10 or any other Whitehall department.
The six companies have all won Queen’s Awards for Export or International Trade and their products adorn the walls of Buckingham Palace and the White House. They are being hit by an eight per cent duty when they ship fabrics originally manufactured in the EU — mainly Italy and Belgium — back to customers on the Continent.
Simon Jeffreys, chief executive of Designers Guild, said that the Brexit effect will cost the £50 million turnover company £1.5 million this year, wiping out much of its profit margin. He said: “What gets us is that we were expecting duties on goods coming from India or China under WTO rules but we were told there would be zero duties between the EU and the UK, but that is not the case.”
He said the company, which has its main showroom in Chelsea, is looking at setting up a warehouse in Belgium to get round the problem. About 100 distribution and customer service jobs would move to the Continent. Around half of its sales are exports to the EU. Mr Jeffreys said: “It’s such a shame, we’re a British design company at the end of the day.” The six companies employ 2,500 people and have a combined turnover of over £350 million.
In the second letter, sent this week, the chief executives wrote: “You have in fact delivered more duty than ever before… and more bureaucracy than ever before. The red tape and clearance costs as well as duty, in a so-called duty-free deal, are enormous and underestimated completely by your team.”
It said the email was being sent again “as we have received absolutely no response… from you or any of your ministers?”
The Cabinet Office did not respond to a request for comment.