Consumers could face empty shop shelves if the government fails to recognise the complexity of customs agreements as it negotiates Brexit, the BRC has warned.

The retail trade body said without “agreements and investment to supplement a customs deal”, the government risked affecting product availability and prices.

It said that to avoid gaps on shelves and price rises, the government needed to invest significantly in infrastructure to prepare for “Brexit day and thereafter” and to implement a “suite of new agreements supplementing customs that are necessary to side-step additional red tape at ports and docks and prevent delays to goods”.

This would include agreements, not covered by a customs deal, on drivers, haulage, security, transit and VAT, so that systems would be ready for March 2019.

Supply chains

The BRC estimates that because European supply chains are crucial to British retail, if negotiations end in a ‘no deal Brexit’, there could be delays at ports of up to two to three days.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “A strong deal on customs is absolutely essential to deliver a fair Brexit for consumers.

“While the government has acknowledged the need to avoid a cliff-edge after Brexit day, a customs union in itself won’t solve the problem of delays at ports.

“We want to work with the government to develop a system which works for consumers, so that there’s no difference in terms of the availability of affordable, quality products when they make purchases or visit stores post-Brexit.”