EU regulations interfere everywhere. They’re even forcing garden centres to throw away plants



When the public voted for Brexit, horticulture wasn’t a top consideration. But excessive regulation was. And with retailers ordered to shut up shop, garden centres are finding they’re far from free of the EU’s regulatory grip. 

Just as this crisis hit, the sector was getting ready for its bumper months. Stock was on order, plants were scheduled for delivery, and with the taste of spring in the air, the green-fingered were ready to splash the cash on plants, seeds and bulbs.

But just as the peak season was on the horizon, government lockdown forced garden centres to shut their doors. And thanks to EU regulation, huge amounts of stock will be left to rot, plants left to wither, and seeds left unplanted.

A natural solution for our country’s garden centres would be to sell their plants online, but no: while we may have officially left the EU, we’re still far from free of its regulatory grip. 

For those who aren’t avid readers of Horticulture Weekly, the EU plant passport system which used to apply to transporting certain deemed dangerous plants was extended last December.

Now, essentially every plant transferred between growers and garden centres must be carrying a ‘passport’. Not only that, garden centres are lumped with the administrative burden of keeping a record of all plant passports received to keep on file for three years.

Other than the onerous task of record keeping, garden centres are in normal times free to sell plants, seeds and bulbs to joe public. However, they can’t sell them to other garden professionals unless they register under the plant passport scheme, get inspected and get approved.

Because of this arduous and bureaucratic process, many centres decided just to sell to individuals to avoid the extra admin of registering to issue their own passports.

But now with garden centres on government lockdown, they’re faced with an impossible situation. Where other retailers have moved their trade online, they cannot: to sell a plant online you need to register first to issue plant passports.

This may explain why our European neighbours, Germany and Holland, have been so reluctant to order the closure of their own garden centres while the rest of the retail sector goes into hibernation.

The garden centres that already had an online presence are unaffected. That’s why you can still order your plants from some online retailers. But for retailers that haven’t been selling online and who have been told they must close up shop, this legislation is hugely damaging.

The rationale is that if a disease is discovered in plant stock DEFRA can trace where they have been and get stock destroyed. But in truth this is Brussels bureaucracy at its worst, piling an excessive administrative burden on small and medium sized businesses.

In recent days, we’ve seen the UK Government waive cumbersome rules with the speed only a crisis of this magnitude can allow.

But as always, the EU has been slow to react.

The UK government has no excuse. We were still members of the EU when this came into effect; we knew this was coming. These EU regulations are hitting one of our most vulnerable sectors at this critical time of year – growers, suppliers, and retailers.

Now we’ve left the EU, the UK government must prove the benefit of our sovereignty, react quicker than our European neighbours and suspend this legislation, even temporarily. Hundreds of thousands of perishable plants depend on it.

Emily Carver is media manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs. Follow her on twitter: @CarverEmily