Some 60,000 British expats in Cyprus are tasting the bitter side of the UK exiting the European Union as they fall victim to Brexit red tape.
Choosing to live out their retirement on the warm Mediterranean island, British expats rested assure that home was not far away as they could easily access their favourite traditional delicacies and receive post from their families back home.
However, Brexit has made it difficult for them on many levels.
Lengthy bureaucratic procedures, increasingly difficult transportation, and higher taxes, topped up by coronavirus restrictions, has seen them deprived of the things that remind them of home.
Marmite, McVities biscuits, HP Sauce, Branston pickle, English sausages once found on the shelves of most Cyprus supermarkets are now disappearing as shipments get tangled up in Brexit red tape.
“For me, it’s Warburtons bread. That’s the one thing that reminds me of home, and I can’t seem to find it anywhere anymore,” said Vikki Bramall, an expat living in Paphos.
“For others, it’s Robinson’s Cordial squashes from Papantoniou supermarkets. But, the fact remains that we are having a hard time getting a hold of the products we know and love and remind us of home.”
Another expat (who didn’t want to be named) told the Financial Mirror that another favourite foodstuff imported from the UK is Branston pickle, “which has completely gone off the market”.
“I used to have relatives bring a few jars around when visiting me. Now with the coronavirus, that’s not an option.”
Bramall, also secretary for the UK Citizens’ Association (UKCA) in Cyprus, said that it is not just the shortage of goods causing frustration.
“When we are able to find the products, we see that their price has gone up significantly since the last time we bought them.”
Expats are also having a hard time receiving items from home through the postal service.
“I had relatives ship over an item from the UK worth £120, for which I paid for door-to-door delivery.
“When it arrived, I got a call from the post office asking me to pick up the parcel.
“Despite having paid the VAT in the UK, officers had demanded that I pay another €70 for VAT,” said Bramall.
“It’s Brexit. I personally voted to leave the EU but did not expect that it would have such an impact and cause such a disruption in our lives here on this beautiful island, we call our home away from home.”
She said that Brexit rules are all new to expats, with no one around to explain them.
“We are even being charged for postal cards from our relatives.”
When moving to Cyprus, Bramall said that many expats had decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle turning to a vegetarian diet.
“They used to buy everything from supermarkets selling Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s products. Now, they find shelves empty.”
Brexit has taken its toll on imports of everyday items from the UK, causing shortages of popular brands.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, Marios Christou, a manager working at supermarket chain Green Tree said: “Although we do not have a lot of expats coming into our stores, our Cypriot clientele has come to enjoy and love these products.
“Products like Robinson’s Cordial juices are one of Cypriots’ favourite beverages”.
Christou said another favourite item on Cypriot shopping lists is readymade Tesco pizzas from one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains.
He said that all companies who import from the UK are having problems as there are serious shortages.
“It’s Brexit. Higher import-export taxes and more red tape have forced Britons to be less keen on exporting abroad, causing delays in orders made by importers in Cyprus.”
Christou expects to see things improve soon, as “British companies and their partners will sooner or later realise the importance of doing business with the EU”.
General director of the Cyprus Supermarket Association, Andreas Hadjiadamou, said that Brexit had posed obstacles for big supermarkets who have deals with UK giants.
Cypriot supermarkets Alphamega and Papantoniou, which struck deals with Tesco and Sainsbury’s respectively to bring their branded products to the island, face the same problems and obstacles posed by Brexit.
“Although Tesco and Sainsbury’s branded products are still available, Alphamega and Papantoniou are running low on stocks, though perhaps at a slower pace compared to other supermarkets that do not have direct deals with UK companies,” said Hadjiadamou.
He said it is a universal problem affecting the whole of the EU and not Cyprus alone, adding that the prices of products on shelves are going up due to scarcity and an increase in fares brought on by Brexit.
“But for Cypriot shoppers, this means fewer options when they go shopping; they feel it more than in any other EU country because we are a small market.”
Asked to comment on behalf of the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Leonidas Paschalides, KEBE’s deputy general secretary, said the main concern is that issues with UK imports will continue to persist.
“Although it may improve once the COVID pandemic subsides, trade with the UK will never be the same again,” said Paschalides.
“Unfortunately, these are the rules of the game. Both Cypriot and UK businesses will have to come to terms with the fact that Britain has left the single market.”
He said trade with the UK would be subjected to the same rules as trade with other third countries such as China.
“COVID isn’t helping, though. There is a general shortage of goods from third countries as many transport companies have docked their cargo ships due to a decrease in demand.”
Paschalides said that things would improve once the COVID-19 pandemic abates, but the fact will remain that the UK is out of the EU.
“There will be a number of issues with UK products as EU’ rules of origin’ are strict. This means that products made in the UK with raw materials imported from a third country will not be treated as UK products. This complicates things quite a bit”.
The UK left the EU single market and customs union on January 1, with rules governing the new relationship taking effect.