Calais shopkeepers sad over Brexit

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The Wine Shop of Calais, which is usually very busy with English shoppers during this period, is completely deserted on December 23, 2020 in Calais, France. (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

Shopkeepers in the French port of Calais expressed sadness on Thursday in the hours before Britain’s final exit from the European Union.

After clinching a last-gasp trade deal a week ago, Britain will leave Europe’s single market at midnight French time.

Jerome Pont, manager of the Calais Vins liquor store, which normally counts on British visitors for 30 per cent of sales, said he was saddened by Brexit and businesses in the town would have to establish new ties with the UK.

“I’m very attached to Britain, I really love Britain,” Pont said. “They’ll remain our neighbours or even almost like our cousins.”

For centuries, the fortunes of Calais have been intertwined with Britain, whose shores 23 miles (37 km) away are clearly visible across the Channel.

Even with the deal, uncertainties remain, especially with regard to limits on the amount of alcohol British customers can take home.

Pont said the store will focus on customers in northern France, although the possibility of Britons still coming to Calais to buy cheaper wine gives him some hope.

“If the British come back, that would be the cherry on top, or as the English say, the icing on the cake,” he said. “And we do love the icing on the cake.”

Iris Crespo, manager of La Maison du Fromage et des Vins, a nearby wine and cheese shop, said the time was right for Britain to leave. But Brexit had led to disappointment among businesses in Calais, with fewer Britons visiting.

“We thought that in the two months of November and December, we’ll have strong earnings since they would come back to stock up,” she said, but this did not happen because of Brexit and COVID-19.

Sebastien Fournier, communications chief for Emile Fournier et Fils, which specialises in smoked fish, did not expect immediate losses. But a year from now, earnings would be down by 7 per cent to 12 per cent, he said.

He added: “If our English friends are no longer here, no big deal, we’ll make do without them, and we’ll continue to move forwards.”