UK ports will be ‘stopped dead’ and wine could be held there for days if a customs deal isn't reached in Brexit negotiations, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has warned as the government prepares to trigger Article 50 this week.
If customs from the EU have to be declared, there will be significant delays at British ports, turning them into ‘lorry parks’, the WSTA warned.
Currently, only imports and exports from outside the EU are subject to customs controls.
But, if the UK leaves the customs union as well as the single market following its two years of Brexit talks, the volume of cargo subject to inspection at British ports will more than double, according to the WSTA. Ministers plan to trigger Article 50, marking the start of negotiations, on Wednesday 29 March.
The WSTA also warned of a risk of a resurgence of alcohol smugglers, if it proves difficult to get wine and spirits in and out of the UK.
‘There must be clear and workable mechanisms in place to allow cross-border trade of wine and spirits from the moment we leave the EU,’ said Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA.
‘Anything else will result in huge delays at the ports leading to backlogs and gridlock.’
The UK is the second largest importer of wine by volume, after Germany, and second in value, after the US, according to the WSTA.
The majority of wine imports into the UK arrive by boat and are distributed across the country by lorry.
On average, the port of Dover alone handles 290 lorries per hour, carrying a range of goods, which works out at one every 12.4 seconds, according to the WSTA.
‘The UK is the most important country in the global wine and spirit trade and criminals will find alternative methods of getting alcohol in,’ said WSTA customs expert, David Richardson.
‘It’s big business for Britain and it’s vital government maintains the free flow of trade between the UK and Europe and reassures industry with an early solution.’