Brexit red tape could turn Britain into a lorry park

Brexit red tape could bring customs to a standstill, according to The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), and the trade body has warned that “delays and gridlocks” at UK ports will encourage the resurgence of alcohol smugglers.

The triggering of Article 50 this month has prompted concerns from WSTA members and the trade body has warned the government that key ports and surrounding roads could be transformed into lorry parks if Brexit blocks UK borders. The WSTA added that as a consequence imported wines and spirits will not get onto shelves and this could lead to “an influx of bootleggers”.

Britain imports 1.8bn bottles of wine, worth £2.8bn, and 55% of this comes from the EU. The majority of imports come by boat and is then transferred to lorries and distributed across the country. Dover handles 290 lorries per hour.

Imports from (and exports to) countries from outside the EU are subject to customs controls but goods from the EU are free to be moved with no extra checks. When the UK leaves the customers union it would see more than double the volume of cargo that could be subject to inspection at British ports.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said: “We want to avoid a cliff edge situation and urge the government to take industry advice on how to avoid a trade dead-stop and ensure the rapid transit of goods. 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. Anything else will result in huge delays at the ports leading to backlogs and gridlock. We much do everything we can to prevent Britain turning into a lorry park. If this isn’t addressed it will mean misery on the roads for all and will also mean that wine and spirits will not get onto the shelves. If this happens it is not unrealistic to expect an influx of bootleggers looking to find more efficient ways of getting alcohol into the UK.”

WSTA customs expert, David Richardson, added: “If we find ourselves in the nightmare scenario of UK ports shutting down as lorries are held in stacking chaos then goods will not be getting to market. This will inevitably lead to bootlegging. The UK is the most important country in the global wine and spirit trade and criminals will find alternative methods of getting alcohol in. It is big business for Britain and it is vital government maintains the free flow of trade between the UK and Europe and reassures industry with an early solution.”

The UK wine industry is the second largest wine importer by volume to Germany and the second largest by value to the USA.

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