Guns are latest victim of Brexit border brawls

Predictions of doom and gloom have been hitting the headlines since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016. How many of them have come true? For the gun trade at least, there have been mixed results since the actual break up at the start of 2021.

One of the initial issues importers and exporters report is a lack of support from the government. Gary Costello, managing director of PBS international, which exports goods to Europe as well importing, blames the rush to get Brexit done.

“Nobody had any chance really to thrash out the finer details,” he says. “I think they’ve just gone on what they think would work, but all these other things and complexities are coming out of the woodwork and nobody’s got any answers, as yet.”

Mark Swift from RUAG agrees. “Government departments didn’t understand the consequences of what was going on, by the sounds of it,” he says. “Whenever we tried to contact them, it was taking ages for someone to come back with the simplest of questions, to start with, and as you can imagine, we weren’t the only industry asking questions at the time.”

RUAG imports goods including RWS ammunition from Germany and Perazzi shotguns from Italy. Mark adds that things are improving.

Blaser imports from the company’s factory in southern Germany. CEO Frederic Hanner says a predictable side effect of Brexit is higher prices. “Licensing got a bit more pricey, and then you need a customs agent for every import, but that’s quite good because it doesn’t matter if you import a single rifle or a pellet: it’s per customs declaration so, if you bring in a lot of goods, that’s fine.”

Of course, this will all mean higher prices tags.  “We had a price increase in January to cover all these costs,” says Frederic. “Definitely more work, more costs, more time.”

While Europe may act as a united front in dealing with Britain, each member country has their own separate set of rules, further complicating things.

“The transiting of France, that seems the biggest issue for us,” says Mark. “We think we’ve now solved it. We are trying a shipment that left the Perazzi factory in Italy today, and we are trialling the first shipment now. We will know in a day or two whether it’s got through or not. But the transit permits for France have been, let’s say, difficult to acquire.”

Frederic can apply for licences for Blaser rifles and shotguns in advance, which makes German gun importing process easier. 

One unexpected problem, says Gary, is that there is no consensus over what constitutes a gun. Some courier and shipping companies are turning down contracts. 

“Now that there is a customs [declaration] that has to be done, it draws the attention to it,” says Gary. “I’m not talking component parts, I’m not talking anything that requires a licence, anything that is illegal, I’m just talking a fore-end or a grip or anything along those lines, and it’s refused. So, you’ve got all this sort of cargo that’s being sold to Europe that’s being held. The major courier companies don’t want to touch it because they believe it’s not appropriate, even though it is and there’s no actual government restrictions on it. It’s the companies’ own internal policies.” 

Eurocracy combined with British bureaucracy have made it a tough first quarter, but now the import/export process is becoming easier as border officials feel more comfortable with the new rules.

“Initially we had some little issues around how things are classified, especially shotguns,” says Mark, “but it looks like all that’s been sorted. That was easier to sort than the imports. Let’s put it that way.”

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