If the government does not secure mutually beneficial customs arrangements before the UK leaves the EU in ten months’ time, Twickenham firm Alsford Timber will have to pay millions more upfront to buy European softwood.

That was the message from Alsford Timber, south west London’s largest timber and builders’ merchant, to Sir Vince Cable MP when he visited the 136-year-old business last week.

The Liberal Democrat leader was welcomed by Neil Fuller, Alsford’s Manging Director, to see for himself how merchants deliver for their local communities. Growing the market for timber used in new housing and to convert, extend and repair existing homes was top of the agenda.

Alsford Timber and its trade body, the Builders Merchants Federation, are concerned that not enough is being done in Whitehall to prepare for a ‘no deal’ situation - and the impact it will have on prices and supplies of building materials. Concern is focused on Value-Added Tax and the likelihood of having to pay 20% VAT upfront on European timber and other materials.

Fuller explained to Sir Vince that the UK is not self-sufficient in timber - 60% of imports come from EU countries like Sweden, Finland and Latvia. Unless Britain secures a mutually-beneficial customs agreement, Alsford Timber will have to pay 20% more for timber because VAT becomes liable to pay upfront before consignments can leave ports. He warned of the serious and immediate implications for cashflow, costs and prices for merchants.

Sir Vince, also MP for Twickenham, said: “It’s great to see an example of business flourishing in Twickenham. Alsford Timber plays a critical role in local house-building, and especially the home repair, maintenance and improvement market in the Borough and beyond. I enjoyed meeting Neil Fuller and the team, and wish Branch Manager Tom Stratford continued success in the coming years”.

Fuller added: “We were delighted to welcome Sir Vince to Alsford Timber and show him how the company has evolved over the past few years. It is always great to have our MP taking an interest in local businesses such as ours.

“I hope Sir Vince can help us by raising the issue in Parliament and with ministers. Merchants already face significant cost increases due to rising world prices and currency fluctuations involving Sterling. Paying 20% more due to VAT rules is not something we look forward to."

The visit was arranged by the BMF as part of its industry and parliament programme, which aims to show MPs how trade essentials and value-added products get from quarries, brickworks, sawmills and factories to where they are needed - and to outline the role, value and importance of merchants in delivering for their communities.