Prime Minister warned of imminent risks of border changes to the horticultural industry

In a letter, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has issued an urgent plea to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take immediate action to safeguard the industry.

Shipping containers

The HTA warns of the imminent risks to the UK’s horticultural businesses and urges immediate government intervention ahead of the 30 April Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) changes. The sector seeks a solution that would see Border Control Posts (BCPs) opened while sustaining the current Place of Destination (PoD) scheme and unlocking barriers to Control Point access. This would enable BCPs and easements to be fully tested, functioning, and accessible to businesses in the environmental horticulture sector.

In the letter, HTA Chairman James Barnes emphasised the critical nature of the impending border policy shift, stating:

“If these changes come in without any easements, then it represents massive risks to the UK’s horticultural businesses – one of Britain’s green industries. I write to you in the utmost urgency on behalf of UK environmental horticulture requesting your government to act immediately to address the multitude of problems we face with this shift.”

Barnes highlighted the profound consequences of the proposed changes, including threats to SMEs, job security, biosecurity measures, environmental targets, and consumer choice:

“The consequences present a dramatic risk to the breadth of UK horticulture businesses (the majority of which are SMEs), jobs, biosecurity, environmental target delivery, and to the choice available to the UK’s 30 million gardeners. The risks are exacerbated by coming in April, in the middle of the peak season for imports in our sector.”

Regarding the lack of clarity surrounding operational details at Border Control Posts (BCPs), Barnes expressed deep concern:

“There is an extraordinary amount of detail missing on how BCPs will work and operate when handling high-risk plants…Without answers and clarity and without any of these processes being able to be properly tested in April, it is unacceptable and irresponsible to proceed as the government intends.”

Moreover, he highlighted deficiencies in the capacity and capability of BCPs to handle high-risk plant products:

“The capacity and capability of BCPs to handle the checking of high-risk plant products is drastically deficient…The consequences of not getting this right are stark – a bio-security risk or damaging delays to industry.”

On the issue of costs, the letter urged the government to provide clarity on the Common User Charge (CUC) and engage directly with the sector:

“The costs of using BCPs is yet to be known…The proposed approach places the cost of all the risks and untested plans on our sector.”

In conclusion, Barnes urged the Prime Minister to take immediate action to safeguard the industry:

“We therefore seek you to urgently take the following responsible actions…We believe government shares our interests in successful and secure trade.”

The letter’s publication also coincides with an article in today’s Financial Times, following the HTA arranging a visit for Public Policy Editor Peter Foster to Hutchison Ports in Harwich to discuss how imports will be handled from 1 May.