"The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history":
International trade secretary Liam Fox speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme in July last year.
So, a seamless, pain-free Brexit. Mmmmm. If you believe that then I have this Bridge I would like to sell to you.
We import a great deal of our stock from the EU - Le Jaquard Francais and Charvet in France, Tessitura in Italy even (somewhat counter-intuitively) Thomas Ferguson in Northern Ireland.
We were going to need an EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification number) we were told. Hey, no problem. We've had one of those for ages. Except that the number won't validate on the EU validation website because they don't have access to the UK data. But it validates just fine on the UK site so who cares?
So our supplier just sticks that on our deliveries and we're done, right? Well, no. The shipping company (Fedex, DPD et al) need us to pay the Import VAT and a hefty "administration charge" for each delivery. What we really need is one of those clever VAT deferment accounts with HMRC that the shipper can utilise and that we can settle later. Okay, great, how do we get one of those? Nobody, least of all HMRC VAT, seems to know.
Eventually HMRC come up with the application form which we complete and submit and which is approved at almost lightning speed (something less than 28 days) and we now have a DAN (a deferrment account number). Sorted! Well, no, not really. Each possible shipper that can possibly deliver to us has to have permission to actually use the DAN. There is yet another form downloadable from HMRC which lists your shippers, their registered address and their EORI number.
To protect the innocent, I'm calling the shipping companies "ASC" for Anonymous Shipping Company. But they know who they are.
Me: "Hello, ASC? Can you tell me what your EORI number is?"
ASC: "Our what?"
Eventually, I realise that mostly an EORI is just their VAT number plus "000" so I go ahead and make them up.
Me: "Can you tell me what your registered address is please?"
ASC: "Well, we're in Clacton..."
Me: "No, sorry, your Companies registered address is what I need."
ASC: "Wait, let me pass you to sales...."
Companies House is more helpful and furnishes the required details.
So I fill in the form for all the shippers that I can think of, authorising them to make use of our DAN. Then I put the form in an envelope, put a stamp on it and post it. In a post-box. How quaint. Of course, I forgot one or two and went around the entire filling-in/posting cycle again.
But now our Import side is done, right?
Well, no. Our suppliers have an aversion it seems to putting the right details on their postage labels but eventually they see the light and get the details right and start sending us properly labelled packages.
Well, no. Now the shipping companies can't get their head around it.
ASC: "Hello, Home Landing? We have a package for you and you need to pay the Import VAT and our hefty administrative charge."
Me: "Well, no, you have our EORI number and our deferment account number. You should be using that."
ASC: "EORI? Deferment account? No you need to pay us the money so we can forward it to the tax authorities."
Me: "No, you see, um.... can I speak to your Supervisor?"
And I apologise unreservedly to one ASC who delivered our goods before collecting the duty and who really can't seem to get their collective heads around EORI numbers and deferment accounts.
Now, about that Bridge you wanted.....
So, that's all pretty smooth and consumed probably less than every spare moment we've had since January.
What about goods flowing in the opposite direction?
Anonymous customer: "We've just had a demand for 20% import VAT and a hefty administrative charge. We refuse to take delivery."
Coming up soon to a Blog near you: A seamless Brexit - part two; the seemingly impossible task of pre-collecting Import VAT and paying it to the relevant EU authorities.