Trading relationships three months after Brexit

Duncan Ross is a specialist at growing biodynamic and organic herbs in a walled garden on the Black Isle, overlooking the Cromarty Firth.

In the pure Highland air, he could get premium prices in Germany for plants such as arnica. But even before he encountered the paperwork for consignments being sent to the European Union, he stopped the trade – cutting off around a fifth of his business.

For a small business, the certification each time a consignment was required wasn’t worth his time.

So he didn’t have to encounter another obstacle to sending plants – that every product with Great British soil attached to it is simply banned from entering the EU. It was trusted as safe in December, but no longer.

At Glendoick nursery near Perth, Ken Cox supplies planted flowers such as rhododendrons to a gold-plated customer base of display gardens. He says he has lost 30% of sales that used to go to the rest of the EU. Without it, he told BBC Scotland: “I don’t think it’s going to be sustainable.

“We’ve been sending plants to Europe for 30 years. If there are bugs in the soil, they’ll have got them a long time ago, so this is really just a bureaucratic thing.”

Those rules should apply to Northern Ireland too; nothing with earth attached, no live sheep, no seed potatoes, and no minced meat. However, the anomalies at the Cairnryan to Larne and Belfast crossing are among those rules to which the British government signed up but is now refusing to implement.

The grace period for introducing customs checks in the province has been unilaterally extended by Whitehall. The EU is crying foul, and suing under the terms of the Christmas Eve deal. With chief negotiator Lord David Frost now installed as Brexit minister, and telling Brussels to get over its resentment of Brexit, abrasive relations have been getting rawer.

Brexit remains a work in progress – its effects often masked by the Covid crisis. With more movement of people, and opening up of commerce, the impact of this enormous shift in Britain’s economy are likely to become clearer in the coming months.


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