Soiled deal: UK defies EU ban on British dirt on plants shipped to Northern Ireland
DUBLIN — Another day, another unilateral British move to pull away from EU single market rules involving Northern Ireland. The U.K.’s Northern Ireland Office confirmed Friday to POLITICO that, with immediate effect, many products containing soil are being cleared for shipment once again from suppliers in Britain. The move — demanded for weeks from businesses […]
DUBLIN — Another day, another unilateral British move to pull away from EU single market rules involving Northern Ireland.
The U.K.’s Northern Ireland Office confirmed Friday to POLITICO that, with immediate effect, many products containing soil are being cleared for shipment once again from suppliers in Britain.
The move — demanded for weeks from businesses such as nurseries deprived of their normal British stock — violates the EU’s longstanding ban on importing products containing soil from outside the bloc.
Since January 1, when Britain left the single market but Northern Ireland remained bound by its rules, shipping anything from potted plants to muddy tractors became off-limits under the terms of the Brexit trade deal’s Irish protocol.
The U.K. government on Wednesday announced that, regardless of EU opposition to the move, it would add six months to the grace period on imposing full customs and sanitary checks on food shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland supermarkets.
On Thursday, the U.K. similarly extended the previously EU-agreed grace periods on requiring customs declarations on most parcels from Britain to Northern Ireland.
While those moves were published by the parliament in London, Friday’s move to stop blocking products containing British soil was circulated only to businesses.
A Northern Ireland Office official in Belfast said the EU ban on products containing British soil was “having a direct, and often disproportionate, impact on lives and livelihoods, including an unacceptable disruption to the flow of critical goods.”
The official declined to say how long the policy U-turn was expected to last, describing it as “temporary and practical” pending further negotiations with the EU to find a new long-term policy that would be “appropriate and risk-based.”
The new policy means flower bulbs and vegetables can be shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland with soil attached. Plants in soil bedding, pots and containers can too, as long as the shipping firm has appropriate passports from the U.K.’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.
Agricultural and forestry machinery won’t need a phytosanitary certificate if “they have been washed to remove excessive soil and plant debris,” the internal guidance states.
Landscapers and gardeners celebrated the move, just as port authorities had welcomed Wednesday’s decision to delay full checks on British goods bound for Northern Ireland supermarkets.
The U.K. intends to enforce full customs controls only on food consignments arriving in Northern Ireland that travel onwards to Republic of Ireland supermarkets until October. The U.K.’s unraveling agreement with the EU had specified that goods bound for Northern Ireland should be subject to the same controls by April 1.
The U.K.-EU agreement had offered no tolerance or grace period for English, Welsh or Scottish soil present on products bound for Northern Ireland.
As a result, Cameron Landscapes and Garden Centre in Belfast said it had lost the ability since January to negotiate deliveries and future contracts with existing suppliers in England.
“There was nobody prepared to ship. Pricing went out the window,” said its manager, John Dobbin.
“Now all plants can travel as normal, just the way they did before Christmas,” Dobbin told the BBC. “That’s everything back to how it should be.”