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  • Sneha Gosavi

Beyond the Bouquet: New Brexit Rules Cause Havoc for UK Flower Traders


The recent implementation of Brexit border checks has thrown the UK flower industry into turmoil. With the introduction of physical checks on food and plants from the EU, flower exporters and customs officials are facing unexpected challenges, particularly the need to use Latin names for plants. This has led to costly delays and significant disruptions for businesses reliant on timely imports from the Netherlands. This blog post reacts to the unfolding situation and explores its implications for the flower industry and beyond.

New Brexit Rules Cause Havoc for UK Flower Traders


Latest Brexit News: Impact of New Border Checks

The UK government's decision to introduce physical checks on certain food and plant imports has led to a series of unforeseen issues for flower exporters. Traders report that the number of checks far exceeds the anticipated 3-5% of consignments, with some lorries being held for hours without inspection. This has caused significant delays, particularly problematic for the flower industry, which relies on the freshness and timely delivery of its products.


Increased Checks and Delays


Despite assurances from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that they would aim to check between 3% and 5% of consignments containing “medium risk” products like cut flowers, traders have experienced a higher frequency of inspections. Freddie Heathcote, owner of Green and Bloom, reported that each of his daily trucks had been flagged for inspection. In one instance, his driver was held at the Sevington border control post for seven-and-a-half hours without the truck being opened, leading to missed deliveries and financial losses.


The delays have been particularly detrimental to businesses that depend on precise timing for their operations. Johan Heemskerk, co-founder of Klahee Flowers, emphasized that his customers rely on timely orders for events such as weddings and funerals. A delay of nine hours can mean that flowers arrive too late, causing significant disruptions and financial consequences.


Latin Names and Administrative Challenges


One of the most unexpected challenges has been the requirement to use Latin names for plants in the new Ipaffs (Import of products, animals, food, and feed system) computer system. Many importers and customs brokers have struggled with this requirement, as some plant and flower names are missing from the system. This has forced businesses to resort to using incorrect names or workarounds, complicating the import process further.


Ian Shuttlewood, a director at PML Seafrigo, highlighted the difficulties posed by the Latin name requirement. The need for cheat sheets and the absence of certain plant names on the system have made the process cumbersome and error-prone. These administrative hurdles add to the delays and increase the risk of missed deliveries and financial losses for flower importers.


Economic Consequences


The economic impact of these disruptions cannot be understated. The UK flower industry relies heavily on imports from the Netherlands, with about 80% of flowers sold in the UK coming from there. Before Brexit, flowers were transported from the Netherlands to the UK overnight, ensuring timely delivery to wholesalers and customers. Now, exporters need to complete Dutch export paperwork and British import paperwork, leading to potential delays that can cause them to miss ferry schedules.

Everything About the UK Flower Industry

Netherlands Dominance

For over 200 years, the heart of the global trade in cut flowers has been the Netherlands. The Royal FloraHolland auction house near Amsterdam plays a critical role by importing and re-exporting 40% of flowers from around the world. The Netherlands remains a major player in the industry, serving as the primary hub for flower distribution.

UK Market

In the UK, the market for cut flowers and ornamental plants was worth £1.3 billion in 2018. Around 90% of these flowers are imported, with the majority still coming via the Netherlands. Supermarket flower sales account for 70% of UK flower sales, most of which are imported. This heavy reliance on imports underscores the importance of an efficient supply chain to ensure the timely delivery of fresh flowers.


Supply Chain Challenges

Getting delicate flowers from one continent to another without wilting or damage is a technological feat. The supply chain involves workers, farmers, wholesalers, airlines, cargo ships, traders, florists, and supermarkets. Flowers are transported quickly using a “cold-chain” to maintain freshness. Vase life typically lasts 12-15 days after reaching customers, which means any delays in the supply chain can significantly impact the quality and shelf life of the flowers.


Top Growers and Exporters

The biggest growers and exporters of cut flowers include the Netherlands, Ecuador, Colombia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Kenya, in particular, exports a significant proportion of flowers directly to the UK via direct flights from Nairobi. These countries have developed robust flower industries, leveraging their favorable climates and advancements in transport technology to compete in the global market.


Tariff Changes

Recently, the UK temporarily removed export tariffs for cut flowers, making trade easier and cheaper for growers in East Africa and beyond. Unlimited quantities of flowers can now be exported to the UK at 0% tariff, even if they transit via a third country. This policy change is intended to support the UK flower industry by ensuring a steady and cost-effective supply of flowers from international growers.


Government Response and Industry Reaction


The government, through Defra, has downplayed the extent of the disruption, stating that claims of significant disruption are false and attributing delays to technical and information errors made by businesses. Defra insists that their teams are working closely with traders to ensure checks are completed efficiently and swiftly.


However, the reaction from the industry suggests a different reality. Customs brokers and flower wholesalers have voiced their frustration with the new system and the unexpected frequency of checks. The need for accurate data input and the challenges associated with the Latin name requirement have compounded the difficulties faced by businesses.


Calls for Improvement


The flower industry is calling for improvements to the current system to reduce delays and administrative burdens. Suggestions include allowing big nurseries to conduct checks at their own premises, simplifying the paperwork requirements, and improving the Ipaffs system to include all relevant plant and flower names. These changes could help streamline the process and reduce the financial impact on businesses.


Additionally, there is a need for better communication and coordination between the government and the industry. Ensuring that businesses are fully aware of the requirements and have the necessary resources to comply can help mitigate some of the challenges. Regular feedback from traders should be incorporated into the system to address any ongoing issues and improve efficiency.


Broader Implications for the UK Economy


The issues faced by the flower industry are indicative of broader challenges resulting from Brexit. The introduction of new border checks and administrative requirements has created friction in various sectors, affecting trade and increasing costs for businesses. The flower industry, with its reliance on timely imports and perishable goods, is particularly vulnerable to these disruptions.


The economic impact extends beyond the flower industry to other sectors that rely on imports and exports with the EU. The additional costs and delays can reduce the competitiveness of UK businesses, leading to potential losses in market share. Consumers may also face higher prices as businesses pass on the increased costs of compliance and delays.


Need for Strategic Planning


The government and industry need to engage in strategic planning to address these challenges and ensure the smooth flow of goods across borders. This includes investing in infrastructure and technology to facilitate efficient border checks, providing support and training for businesses to navigate the new system, and fostering collaboration between government agencies and the private sector.


In the long term, there may be a need to re-evaluate trade policies and agreements to minimize friction and ensure that UK businesses remain competitive in the global market. This could involve negotiating trade agreements that reduce the burden of border checks and simplify administrative requirements.




The new Brexit border checks have had a significant impact on the UK flower industry, highlighting the challenges and complexities of navigating post-Brexit trade regulations. The increased frequency of checks, administrative burdens, and the requirement to use Latin names for plants have led to costly delays and disruptions for businesses. The economic consequences are far-reaching, affecting not only the flower industry but also other sectors that rely on timely imports and exports.

In the meantime, businesses must adapt to the new reality, finding ways to navigate the administrative hurdles and minimize delays. The resilience and ingenuity of the flower industry will be crucial in overcoming these challenges and continuing to provide beautiful, fresh flowers to customers across the UK.

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