- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
UK customs officials are banning potatoes and tractors from Northern Ireland if they have soil from Great Britain on them, Arlene Foster has said ahead of a key meeting with Boris Johnson today.
Ms Foster, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, blamed British customs officials for over-interpreting rules in the Northern Ireland Protocol which governs flows of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In an interview with The Telegraph's Chopper's Politics podcast, which you can listen to on the audio player above, she called for a review of the Protocol, which established regulatory and customs processes in the Irish Sea, in the wake of the row last week when the European Commission considered imposing a hard border on the island of Ireland to stop vaccines getting into the UK.
UK officials have told companies in Northern Ireland that soil must not be allowed to be imported, even inadvertently, from the British mainland to Northern Ireland on health grounds.
Watch: Brexit - Boris Johnson calls for 'urgent action' from EU after it 'undermined' Northern Ireland Protocol
Last night the UK Government confirmed that "the movement of plants and plant products from GB to the EU and NI are subject to the EU’s plant health import requirements, including the restrictions on soil and growing media".
Ms Foster said: "There is a lot of very grave anger in Northern Ireland about the way in which this protocol is rolling out. And we need to get it sorted and we need to get it sorted immediately.
"There was no plant disease in Great Britain before Brexit. So how are there any difficulties now post Brexit in terms of Northern Ireland?
"One of the most offensive things, I have to say, for a lot of us here in Northern Ireland is that we're told that soil from Great Britain cannot make its way across the Irish Sea over to Northern Ireland.
"So if you're buying, for example, seed potatoes, well, that's a real problem because the seed potatoes may have British soil on it and you can't possibly bring that into Northern Ireland.
"Or if you're bringing a second hand tractor or a second hand digger across into Northern Ireland, you can't have any soil on it from Great Britain because that, again, will cause a risk to the single market."
The ban could be raised when Ms Foster meets Mr Johnson for a private meeting today. Ms Foster added: "A lot of us find it so offensive when we're told British soil cannot come into Northern Ireland."
She said that the checks currently being demanded went far beyond the phytosanitary vetting to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases and pests, which was in place before the UK left the regulatory control of the EU at the end of last year.
She said: "We've seen actually a real and tangible increase, not just in checks around live animals and goods of animal origin, but around everything from parcels to pets to seeds coming in from Great Britain."
Ms Foster told Chopper's Politics podcast she blamed the UK government - not EU officials - for the problems. She added: "It's our own Government and our own officials looking at the regulations and implementing it to the Nth degree."
She added: "This time of the year a lot of people plant their gardens, they go on to somewhere like Suttons and they want to order in their seeds. They can't do that anymore because they're told there's a risk.
"And, of course, there's no risk. And I think the difficult thing for a lot of people in Northern Ireland to understand is why would the European Union see that as a risk?
"You know, being able to get plants, seeds from Great Britain, how is that a risk to the single market of the European Union?"
A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “We are working closely with the horticulture industry to ensure they can take advantage of the opportunities leaving the EU brings, and overall businesses are adjusting well to the new rules and continue to trade effectively.
“Alongside other measures, we have put in place the Movement Assistance Scheme (MAS) to support and assist traders moving plants, plant products, and agrifood from GB to NI - meaning that businesses do not face new direct costs from certification requirements.”
A source confirmed that "the movement of plants and plant products from GB to the EU and NI are subject to the EU’s plant health import requirements, including the restrictions on soil and growing media" now that the UK has left the transition period.
"The new sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland were put in place by the UK Government as part of the UK’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and will uphold the longstanding status of the island of Ireland as a single epidemiological unit.
"It is permissible to export plants with growing media attached to them from GB to the EU and NI, as long as that growing media meets the EU’s special import requirements
Listen to the full interview with Arlene Foster, plus conversations with Theresa Villiers MP and former UK Ambassador to Washington Sir Peter Westmacott on Chopper's Politics Podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.
Watch: What could scrapping EU labour rights mean for UK workers?