Plant and flower growers in the UK have warned that plans to introduce new post-Brexit border controls will hit the garden industry, raising costs and reducing choice for customers.
The Horticultural Trades Association expressed concern after the government Announced last month it would introduce long-delayed customs checks on all goods coming from the EU to Britain, starting in October.
Speaking ahead of the opening of the annual Chelsea Flower Show, the leading international gardening event which starts on Monday, HTA chairman James Barnes said the government’s draft border plan would heap unwanted costs on plant nurseries, the most of which were small businesses.
“The government plan is not detailed enough, it is too late and it has gaps that risk causing uncertainty and accumulating more costs for producers,” he said.
The introduction of border controls has been repeatedly delayed since the UK officially withdrew from the bloc on January 31, 2020, due to concerns that they would create unacceptable delays at Channel ports and put pressure on food supplies.
The Cabinet Office has said it is the government’s “firm intention” to start implementing the controls from October, but many industries have raised concerns during the consultation about the lack of information, according to inside sources.
The HTA said imports of plants, cuttings and tissue cultures totaled £759m last year, with the bulk coming from Europe. Together they accounted for more than half of the UK’s total production sector of trees, plants, seeds and bulbs, worth more than £1.5bn a year.
Due to the risk of bringing pests into the country, the plants, unlike most other goods arriving from the EU since Brexit, have been subject to biosecurity checks since January 2021, but checks have so far been carried out in importers’ facilities.
Under current government proposals, beginning in January, these biosecurity checks will need to be carried out at official border checkpoints before going through customs, leading to increased costs and delays.
The HTA estimated that the new controls will add £42m a year in bureaucratic costs for businesses, with no economic benefit. He called on the government to delay introducing new controls for a year after the final border plan is published.
Bruce Harnett, head of Kernock Park Plants nursery in Cornwall, which produces more than 13 million plants a year worth £30m at retail prices, said shippers have already warned that it would be impractical to continue importing some items.
He explained that most of the lorries contained consignments, for different types of plants and customers, each taking around two hours to unload, even before UK officials had carried out their inspections.
“We risk plant casualties, destruction and higher costs. The shippers have already stated that given the added hurdles they simply won’t import the items we need,” Harnett told the government’s inquiry on the new border arrangements.
Under the plans, companies can apply to become an inland “border checkpoint,” but Harnett said the level of investment required was well beyond the budget of a company the size of Kernock Park Plants.
In a sign of those concerns, the UK’s Logistics trade body issued a statement warning of the “urgent need for the government to provide more details” after a meeting last week with the Cabinet Office minister. Baroness Neville-Rolfe to discuss plans.
A source on the call said government officials insisted the industry has given a “universally positive response” to the draft border agreements, irritating many present. “WhatsApp business groups have been pretty angry,” the person added.
The government said it was confident that its plans to introduce the new border controls would support companies that import goods. “We have been listening carefully to the feedback we have received from interested parties and will carefully consider what more we can do to support business readiness for the introduction of new controls.”