The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has warned the UK Government that if Brexit talks do not lead to frictionless borders, it could lead to delays and gridlocks at ports, which might pave way for alcohol smugglers.

WSTA members fear that the triggering Article 50 might bring customs to a standstill and transform key ports and surrounding roads into lorry parks.

The country’s wine trade is worth £17.3bn. According to the association, the country “imports 1.8bn bottles of wine worth £2.8bn – 55%, the equivalent of 1bn bottles of wine, come from the EU.”

A significant portion of wine imports arrive by boat and are transferred to lorries and distributed across the country. On average, Dover handles 290 lorries per hour, carrying a range of goods, which works out at one every 12.4 seconds.

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

"We all want to avoid a cliff-edge situation and urge government to take industry advice on how to avoid a trade dead-stop."

Once 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. However, all operations are designed around the 'just in time' principle and there is no capacity for hold ups.

The WSTA's chief executive Miles Beale 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.

“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 must 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.”

The wine and spirit industry has sought clarity from the government on whether there would be new customs checks and if they would take place in the UK or at EU ports.