Mediwin has operated out of Littlehampton since 2001, predominantly selling pharmaceuticals into Europe from its base in Courtwick Lane.
But on January 1, 90 per cent of its business disappeared overnight as the UK left the European Union.
The company’s finance director, Lisa Cooke, said there had already been 15 redundancies with 30 more to follow – almost a third of its workforce.
“I have watched this company grow rapidly over the last ten years and it’s devastating to have to say to people ‘sorry, there are no jobs left for you’,” said Lisa.
“To work this hard and then have to hand over 90 per cent of our business to Europe. These are real people, real jobs, real lives and real taxes and they are all things we have lost in this process.”
Mediwin’s core business model is ‘parallel distribution’ – buying drugs cheaply and selling at a higher price. But as a non-EU member, the company can no longer do that on the continent.
Lisa said they were unable to prepare as they did not know the terms of the exit deal until three days before it came into force.
“Although we had a ‘transition period’, we had no idea what we were transitioning to,” she said, adding they ‘categorically’ could have saved the jobs with more warning.
As part of a larger European company, Mediwin sent staff to Holland to plug the distribution gap after Brexit.
The Dutch government offered support immediately, she said, in ‘stark contrast’ to the UK’s which has only given basic guidance on its website.
Although there are no tariffs, once simple processes now require complicated paperwork that protracts every procedure.
If the paperwork is wrong haulage companies charge €60 an hour for delays at the border, meaning Mediwin has to hire customs agents to make sure everything is in order – a further expense that did not exist last year.
Hauliers are also reluctant to deliver to the UK, Lisa added, as the lack of exports to Europe means they often have to return empty.
“We had a perfectly working system and now we have a less workable system,” said Lisa. “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see any advantages. We have lost tax revenue, lost employees and there’s no upside.”
The idea of regaining control was ‘totally pointless’, she said, as many companies have lost their European market.
Mediwin hopes to rebuild its UK business to the point where it can start rehiring in around 12 months.
But even that process will be aimed at simply returning to the position it was already in prior to Brexit.
Meanwhile, its parent company has invested millions of pounds in new distribution centres in Europe to replace the jobs taken from Littlehampton.