Europa MD Andrew Baxter has revealed the company has spent at least £1m on Brexit preparations in 2019 alone but said year-end profits would still be up and that leaving the EU is the right outcome for the logistics sector.
With the Dartford-based firm focusing heavily on UK/European road freight, committed Brexiteer Baxter told MT that business had been significantly complicated by the reinstatement of customs clearance and the need for import and export declarations.
“It’s been incredibly complicated and massively frustrating,” he said. “It’s cost us at least £1m off our profitability this year. For the 31 March deadline, we had to bring in 45 additional people and create new office space, even though Brexit wasn’t going to happen.”
Baxter bought the Europa business in 2013 and had since overseen a successful restructure that, despite Brexit preparations, has helped boost 2019 turnover by 22% to £220m and profits to over £6m.
But he insisted the haulage and logistics sector would be more successful outside the EU once any short-term disruption had subsided.
“The easiest thing for me to do is carry on carrying on because that would make my life simpler,” he said. “But the interests of this business, and British transport, and British business as a whole are best served by operating in a successful economic environment. That is most likely to happen outside the EU.
“Outside of Brexit the operating environment is OK. You’ll always have issues but our business is to put in place mechanisms to deal with increases in the price of fuel, currency adjustment factors and competing for labour. Lots of hauliers spend their lives complaining about this, that or the other. But that’s what the business is.”
Baxter likened Brexit to the Europa restructure and said the sector could withstand short-term disruption. “If you have something that’s flawed you have to get out of of it, put it straight and once it is you’re in a position to grow,” he explained. “The answer isn’t to say, ‘leaving is too scary so we’ll stay here forever.’ The answer is to deal with the fundamental issues and that’s what Brexit does.
“I have no idea why people would think that Britain can’t be a prosperous country outside the EU. Australia and New Zealand, in spite of being in the middle of nowhere, and Canada and America are examples of successful democratic countries continuing to be more economically successful than we are.”
Asked why he remained pro-Brexit despite the damage it has done to the company’s profits, Baxter said: “Because the whole European project is flawed and ultimately that project will fail and instead of addressing the flaws in the EU we’re just doing more of it. They’re ignoring all the issues.
“People will say we should stay in to try to influence it. The UK has been trying to do that for over 40 years and it hasn’t. Actually, the momentum, unbelievably, has been to go further down that path without any proper concept behind it.
“Ultimately you can’t have a single currency without political and economic union, which effectively means a single country of Europe. A single country won’t work. Are the EU, in this day and age, going to get rid of all those independent countries without democratic approval? That’s what they’re doing. It’s become a major issue. It’s nearly bankrupted southern Europe and put tens of millions of people into poverty and everyone just blindly carries on.
“If you have a single currency it gives advantage to certain areas. You have to take the money from the advantaged areas and redistribute it into the disadvantaged areas – but of course they’re not prepared to do that. They keep the money but in the end that will be a problem.
“The EU are doing the wrong thing, they’re going in the wrong direction, they’re not listening to us so I believe we’re better off distancing ourselves from that. We’ll do Europe a favour by demonstrating that you can succeed perfectly well on the outside of the EU and that hopefully we‘ll have more influence in shaping what happens in Europe than we ever will by remaining in. That will make people sit up and wonder what they’re doing, what it’s all for.”