Post-Brexit checks ‘mean only the rich will be able to give flowers’, Lords told

The Government has been accused of “withering romance” with their new import controls as “only the rich” will be able to give flowers.

As of April 30, new sanitary and phytosanitary checks have been imposed on food and agricultural products imported from the EU.

Ministers have said this is to better detect pests and disease and, therefore, improve biosecurity on the UK’s trade border.

However, Lord Howarth of Newport argued that this will increase prices for consumers and put small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) out of business.

Lord Howarth, who has been both a Conservative minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and a Labour minister under Tony Blair, said: “This is a wretched affair and, I would argue, an unnecessary one.

“A mass of our businesses are unable to plan because they simply don’t know what the compliance requirements will be of the new system of import controls, nor its timescale.

“They only know that the bureaucratic burdens and the costs will be onerous, especially for SMEs, to the point where not a few will go out of business.

“I was talking to a florist friend who told me there is already an extra 24-hour lead time for orders.

“The price he has to pay for lisianthus, as an example, has almost trebled, and everything imported from Europe has gone up.

“He foresees only the rich being able to give flowers. The dead hand of this Government is even withering romance.”

However, other peers argued the checks are important to prevent future outbreaks of infectious disease in the UK, and to stop EU produce with lower standards undercutting British farmers.

Lord Trees, who is a professor of veterinary parasitology, said these checks will “reduce the likelihood” of importing infectious diseases such as African swine fever, which he labelled a “potential threat to the UK pig population”.

The independent crossbench peer said: “The introduction of these risk-based checks on imported medium and high-risk animal and plant products from the EU is to be welcomed, in my opinion.

“These checks, quite simply, create parity with imports from all other third party countries and parity with the checks that the EU carry out on our exports to them, in the absence of a sanitary and phytosanitary agreement.

“It creates a level playing field for our farmers and should help rebalance, to some extent, a very distorted trade balance.”

The leading veterinarian added: “Apart from fairness, the real importance of these checks is with regard to biosecurity. These checks will reduce the risk of importing infectious disease to the UK in plants, animals and indeed in humans.

“Since imports from the EU constitute such a large proportion of all the food products of animal origin imported into the UK – 80% – it is critical that the EU be included in biosecurity checks.

“Despite the relative sophistication of EU animal disease control and surveillance, there are a number of animal pathogens which occur in continental Europe, which we want to exclude from the UK animal population.

“There are also public health threats that we want to exclude from food.”

He noted that there has recently been an outbreak of salmonella, with more than 200 people affected, likely originating from imported poultry products from Poland.

In all, he said the import checks protect animal and human health, as well as the whole UK economy.

Lord Douglas-Miller, minister in the Department of Environment, Food, Rural Affairs (Defra), said the new checks have had a “smooth and successful implementation”, but that the department would continue to monitor their impact and effectiveness.

Lorries at the Sevington Inland Border Facility in Ashford, Kent, as physical, documentary and identity post-Brexit border control checks begin on medium and high-risk plant and animal imports from the EU (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He said: “Contrary to the point raised by Lord Howarth, and in support of the comments raised by Lord Trees, introducing these biosecurity controls on imports is very important.

“Now that we have moved away from the EU’s rigid biosecurity surveillance and reporting system, we are responsible for protecting our own biosecurity from threats such as African swine fever and Xylella.

“These are threats that would devastate UK industries and cause significant damage to the environment, public health and the wider economy.

“We remember the impact in 2001 of foot and mouth which cost British business nearly £13 billion in 2022 prices and, of course, caused massive disruption to very many industries and emotional and financial distress to many of our farmers.

“Biosecurity controls are also essential to protect our exports and international trading interests; our trading partners want to be reassured we maintain the highest biosecurity standards.”