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Butchoff’s refurbished showroom with a Henry Dasson marble clock (dated 1880) and Italian carved giltwood c.1870 chandelier in the foreground.

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The EU – France, Italy and Germany in particular – is significant for the firm as a place to source objects that are then sold to clients in the UK, the US and Asia.

Since the UK left the EU’s customs union on December 31, Butchoff Antiques has imported using a customs procedure known as Temporary Admissions (TA).

This scheme allows the firm to bring goods into the UK with total or partial relief from import VAT – as long as they are re-exported within a given time-period.

“That’s been a big challenge for us so far – ensuring that our items are imported onto our TA bond, which has meant we haven’t had to pay the UK’s 5% import VAT,” says Butchoff director James Kaye.

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James Kaye, director at Butchoff Antiques.

Larger shippers

The cost of shipping from the EU has risen “exponentially,” adds Ian Butchoff, the firm’s founder. “An item that would cost us £300 to ship from France before the UK left the EU’s customs union now costs up to £900, plus there’s the fee for an agent to deal with the customs paperwork per import.”

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Furniture specialist dealer Ian Butchoff.

Butchoff Antiques is now using larger shipping companies to import from the EU “as we know they have the agents in place to organise this,” Kaye says.

“Previously we often worked with smaller, more independent couriers to import on our behalf, as this was quicker and cheaper. I’m not sure how viable this will be moving forward if we want to import goods onto our TA bond.”

Asked if his firm will absorb the extra costs involved, Butchoff is philosophical. “We have to accept there are now additional costs associated with importing from the EU, with most carriers having put up charges to reflect their own additional paperwork costs.

“Antiques are not an exact science and they are subject to negotiation – in lockdown especially so. We can’t just add an extra £500 to the price of an object to recoup the extra cost of importing it. The bottom line is we have to absorb it.”

Export bonus

As for the UK-EU free trade agreement, has Butchoff Antiques noticed any upsides yet? “The fact that all sales outside of the UK are now classed as an export (and hence free of VAT at the UK end) will benefit buyers and collectors from the EU,” says Kaye.

“Hopefully once EU buyers get a sense that it could be cheaper to source from the UK, this will be reflected in more sales in the months to come.”