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WSTA warns of potential bootleg booze flood ahead of Article 50

Published:  27 March, 2017

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has warned that if Brexit blocks borders bootleg booze could flood Britain.

The trade organisation today warned government if Brexit talks didn't achieve "frictionless borders", delays and gridlocks at ports would encourage the resurgence of alcohol smugglers.

The imminent triggering of Article 50 had prompted concern from WSTA members who feared post Brexit tape would bring customs to a standstill and transform key ports and surrounding roads into lorry parks, it said.

"We all want to avoid a cliff-edge situation and urge government to take industry advice on how to avoid a trade dead-stop and ensure the rapid transit of goods," said WSTA chief executive Miles Beale, emphasising there had to be "clear and workable" mechanisms in place to allow cross-border trade of wine and spirits from the moment the UK leaves the EU.

If wine and spirits did not "get onto the shelves", it was not unrealistic to expect an influx of bootleggers looking to find more efficient ways of getting alcohol into the UK, he said.

Of the 1.8bn bottles of wine imported into Britain, 55% of bottles come form the EU with the majority of wine imports arriving by boat and transferred to lorries before being distributed across the country, according to WSTA.

Imports from and exports to countries from outside the EU are subject to customs controls, goods from the EU however are free to be moved on with no extra checks, safeguarded by EU standards and the terms of the single market.

When the UK leaves the customs union, it would see more than double the volume of cargo that could be subject to inspection at British ports, said WSTA.

"All British ports' operations are designed around the 'just in time' principle, so there isn't the capacity for hold ups," said Beale.

With the UK wine industry booming and being central to the global wine trade - it is the second largest wine importer by volume to Germany and the second largest by value to the US, it was vital that a new set of customs clearance and border control procedures were in place for the UK to "maintain its poll position" in the world wide wine trade, he said.

Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter said: "Government need to be doing more to address the concerns of the industries like wine importers who rely on the smooth flow of trade with the EU. Without frictionless trade we could see industry grinding to a halt and some of the 270 thousand people employed by the UK wine industry could find themselves out of a job."