EU 'unwilling' to resolve Northern Ireland issue says MP
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The Northern Ireland Office has confirmed it is now clearing many products containing soil for shipment from Britain in response to complaints from nurseries who have been unable to get their regular stock. The decision is a direct violation of the EU’s ban on importing goods containing soil from outside the bloc.
A Northern Ireland Office official in Belfast told Politico the ban was “having a direct, and often disproportionate, impact on lives and livelihoods, including an unacceptable disruption to the flow of critical goods.”
The move was described as “temporary and practical” pending further negotiations with the EU aimed at finding a new long-term policy which would be “appropriate and risk-based”.
Since January 1, when Britain left the single market but Northern Ireland continued to adhere to its rules, the EU has prohibited shipping anything from potted plants to muddy tractors in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol.
On Wednesday, the Government said it was unilaterally extending to six months the grace period on imposing comprehensive customs and sanitary checks on food shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland supermarkets.
The following day, it extended the previously EU-agreed grace periods on requiring customs declarations on most parcels from Britain to Northern Ireland, also by six months.
Friday’s decision was circulated to businesses only, rather than being published by Parliament, as was the case with the previous two decisions.
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The decision allows flower bulbs and vegetables to be shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland with soil attached.
Plants in soil bedding, pots and containers can as well, provided the firm shipping the order has the appropriate passports from the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.
The UK-EU agreement contained no grace period for English, Welsh or Scottish soil present on products bound for Northern Ireland.
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John Dobbin, manager of Cameron Landscapes and Garden Centre in Belfast, told the BBC: “There was nobody prepared to ship. Pricing went out the window.
“Now all plants can travel as normal, just the way they did before Christmas. That’s everything back to how it should be.”
Chris Bonnett, founder of GardeningExpress.co.uk, outlined the problem facing his industry last month.
He said: “When the Northern Irish trade agreement was finalised, we were told that authorised traders would be given a three-month grace period from official certification for products of animal origin, composite products, food and feed of non-animal origin and plants and plant products.
“So, the fact that we’re now unable to ship many plants without adhering to the lengthy and rigorous checks brought about by the new regulations, whilst our EU based competitors can, already is very frustrating.
“Had we known that the grace period wasn’t going to be honoured for us, we could have been much better prepared so that customer orders could have been shipped without any issues.”
Mr Bennett added: “I feel it is unfair that we are unable to ship goods within our own country, which would be controlled and regulated as they should be, yet various other parties can ship in from abroad without restriction.
“If a neighbour was to import a pathogen carrying plant in this manner and infect my entire stock, what would be my position in respect of the financial loss, both in terms of stock and effectively closing my business?
“This to me is a wholly unacceptable situation, and the industry will suffer a substantial loss of business, and it will put many jobs at risk across the industry.”
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