“We want to negotiate to ensure there are no new customs burdens when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in two years’ time,” was the message from Sir Keir Starmer MP to the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) yesterday (25 April).

The Shadow Brexit Secretary was answering a question from Brett Amphlett, who represented the BMF at a Labour Party event in Westminster.

Sir Starmer gave a keynote televised speech to set out his party’s approach to leaving the EU if Labour wins the forthcoming general election.

The BMF wants politicians of all parties to understand that leaving the Customs Union without a comprehensive UK-EU free trade agreement will unsettle business confidence and planned investments - with severe consequences for the merchants and manufacturers it represents.

Sir Starmer was asked whether the HMRC and port authorities have sufficient resources to deal with millions more customs declarations that will be necessary when the UK leaves the EU Customs Union. The BMF argues that if inspections at ports are not properly resourced, consignments will be stuck on quaysides causing unnecessary backlogs and delays in fulfilling customer orders.

He said that the country cannot have a situation where ‘no deal’ is better than a ‘bad deal’ and that there will have to be transitional arrangements to avoid uncertainty for affected businesses.

The speech took place at the Institute of Civil Engineers in front of an invited audience of businessmen and women and political editors from the national print and broadcast media.

Since the prime minister triggered the EU Article 50 clause, the BMF has been lobbying MPs to persuade the government to negotiate a mutually beneficial new customs agreement based on zero or low tariffs. More should be done to prepare for the possibility of no deal with the EU - and the unwanted extra bureaucratic and financial burdens that will arise from that, says the BMF.