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Brexit blooms: UK and EU plant firms call for urgent action over border hold-ups

Wilted flowers.
Wilted flowers. Copyright Canva.
Copyright Canva.
By Eleanor Butler
Published on Updated
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The UK’s Horticultural Trades Association and sister groups from across Europe warn that new border checks aren’t working.

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Trade bodies representing garden centres in the UK and the EU have signed an open letter calling upon political leaders to tackle a post-Brexit border "crisis".

They claim that new changes to import procedures, applied in April, are causing delays, damage, and extra costs for those bringing plants into the UK.

"The UK has a unique border with the EU in terms of trading plants and plant products," said the letter.

"Nowhere else in the world is there a border that sees such a volume of plants and plant products traded between countries that do not have a form of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) arrangement, recognition, or agreement."

The groups claimed they are lobbying for "constructive dialogue and action" in light of the UK general election on 4 July.

Signatories include the Horticultural Trades Association UK, which represents around 1,400 garden retailers. EU bodies supporting the calls include the Dutch Association for Nursery Stock and Flower Bulbs, and the International Flower Trade Association based in Brussels.

'High-risk' plants no longer checked at nurseries

The rules brought in earlier this year mean that plant and animal products coming to the UK from the EU will face more thorough checks.

Before their implementation, most imported goods from the EU weren’t being monitored - a temporary measure to allow businesses time to adapt to the post-Brexit changes.

Products which present a medium risk to the health of the UK's population and environment will now be tested for pests and diseases.

High-risk goods will also now be inspected at the border, whereas they were previously checked once they had reached their destination.

The horticultural groups said that the new system is less efficient at scanning for pests and diseases but also risks causing cash-flow problems for some firms.

They project that import costs will be bumped up by more than 25% due to longer journey and application times, increased stock damage, and fees linked to the checks themselves.

For one lorry alone, they calculated that the added vetting costs could reach £1,740 (€2,052) if a provider brings in 12 different batches of plants.

Trade bodies branded these charges as unsustainable for small businesses.

Wilting plants in waiting trucks

In the letter, one company said three of its vehicles carrying plants were held up for 44 hours at a border post after a software problem.

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"It transpired that it was APHA testing for a particular insect, the results of which took so long to return that the many plants on board the trailers had died, rotted off or wilted," the document testified.

It claimed that the port operator, which didn’t operate around the clock, was uncontactable: "The haulier & agent knew nothing about what was happening to the plants, which were not cared for."

Another haulage company said 23 of its trucks were inspected during the first week of the checks.

This led to 93 hours of driver waiting time, costing the firm £38,000 in extra pay (€44,819).

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Not only is this a burden on company budgets, but trade bodies have flagged concerns about driver welfare.

They claimed that drivers often don’t have access to proper washing facilities, as well as food and hot drinks, when their waiting times regularly exceed 10 hours.

"Whilst the election causes a policy pause, as associations representing the full supply chain, we ask that whoever wins at the ballot box engages in solutions immediately and urgently with the horticultural industry," said the groups in their letter to the government.

"As a sector comprising mostly SMEs but also supplying larger retailers, who are subject to weather impacts, labour constraints and other input cost hikes, the impacts of border changes are hitting harder and with greater impact."

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The government has said it is working closely with traders to ensure the efficient processing of goods. It is also publishing guidance for companies on how to reduce delays.

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