PARLIAMENT returned on Monday after the Christmas recess, and it has been a week of debates, committee meetings and numerous other meetings relating to constituency and national issues.

On Monday, MPs debated the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, which aims to establish the UK’s customs and tariff regime post-Brexit. The Bill will create the regulatory and legislative framework for the Treasury to set up a customs regime whatever the outcome of the UK-EU Brexit talks.

Labour is pro-trade and pro-investment. The UK’s future prosperity depends on minimising tariff and non-tariff barriers that prevent us from exporting and creating the jobs and economic growth we need. We’re committed to ensuring there is frictionless trade between the UK and EU, which puts the needs of UK businesses and manufacturers first.

I believe that is best achieved by staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union. And as the facts change, the public have the right to change their mind on this whole sorry mess.

In Monday’s debate, I asked the Treasury Minister: “On the specific need to keep trade frictionless, HMRC said we would need an additional 5,000 customs officials. The Home Office said it was already recruiting 300 additional staff, although I understand they will backfill places rather than taking on additional roles. How many new customs officers are currently in training to prepare for the new customs regime in March 2019?”

He refused to answer and refused to confirm that any additional customs officers are being trained – suggesting that existing staff could be reallocated.

The Government’s approach and lack of preparation remains a huge concern – particularly given clear evidence of the consequences of even marginal delays to customs procedures, such as those caused by the introduction of a new IT system and the additional time spent processing declarations.

The Freight Transport Association says the addition of an average of two minutes to customs processing would result in a 17-mile queue from Dover back to Ashford; four minutes takes the queue to Maidstone; six minutes to the M25; eight minutes, and it reaches the Dartford crossing and Essex.

I reminded the Minister: “We could not have a clearer illustration of the types of problems that could be caused. These are substantial changes and, even with the best will in the world, they will have substantial impacts on trade.”

Nothing that Ministers have said to date gives me confidence that the Government has any handle on the situation.