Where are we now?
Brexit negotiations have begun but the only thing that is certain in Westminster and Brussels is that we can expect a period of uncertainty as the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and the rest of the world, takes shape. This upheaval is an opportunity for the horticulture sector to shape policy and to progress on issues in the light of new personalities and priorities. For example, we are lobbying for senior representation for ornamental horticulture in the new government structure.
Representing your views
The UK's exit from the EU will be a lengthy process and many areas of government policy will be affected. We have used the results of our consultation to identify the issues you're most affected by. These form the basis our lobbying strategy, and as the situation develops we'll continue to consult closely with our members. The best advice we can offer is to assess what the opportunities and threats are for you from the future UK-EU relationship and let us know. We and our partners will ensure the voice of the horticulture sector is heard loud and clear in this process. You've told us you want representation on the following topics, and we continue to push in these areas.
Access to labour
- We estimate that among commercial growers up to a third of the workforce is made up of non-UK, EU nationals. EU nationals are heavily represented in the seasonal workforce.
Many businesses employ staff from the EU, benefiting from freedom of movement. This allows recruitment from a wider talent pool of the brightest and the best from across the EU (at a time when horticultural skills are in short supply and diminishing in the UK). Brexit could make accessing this talent much harder in the future, meaning that the sector may need to look to make alternative arrangements to fill vacancies. George Eustice MP, reappointed Minister of State for Defra has suggested that the UK could return to using seasonal agricultural workers schemes or other similar arrangements to solve the skills shortage, but this would require legislation.
- The fall in the value of sterling since the referendum has had an impact on those who import plants and products – this will inevitably have a knock-on effect on prices for the customer
Around £300m worth of plants and plant material is imported into the UK annually. This represents a strong opportunity for economic growth through import substitution. The Prime Minister has confirmed that the UK government will no longer seek membership of the Single Market which could mean that many horticultural businesses who currently trade with Europe could suffer from the imposition of restrictive and costly tariffs. As far as we know the outcome of the recent General Election hasn't changed the government position on this.
Examples of where particular impact could be felt include the common seed market, which allows free movement of seeds, and has seen extensive harmonisation of technical requirements across member states; or the ability to trade plant material, equipment and finished plants freely.
Plant health and environment regulation
- As a major importer of plants and plant material, regulation on plant health has a major impact on UK horticulture businesses
The UK abides by several EU council directives designed to protect the environment and curb the spread of harmful pests and diseases. Whilst it is unlikely the rule book will be completely re-written once the UK is no longer part of the EU, not least due to international commitments (such as the International Plant Protection Convention) there is likely to be a lengthy debate on the merits of regulations as the UK decides which aspects of EU law it upholds and which it re-writes, or abandons altogether. Depending on the regulation or directive, this could be beneficial or potentially damaging to the sector, re-opening issues such as the appropriate use of neonicotinoids.
Given the level of interdependence between horticulture industries across the EU and shared challenges around biosecurity, plant health and innovation and skills, the sector will need to ensure that government maintains a collaborative and joined-up approach with other member states even in the aftermath of Brexit.
Brexit also means that decisions at the EU level may be delayed. We have already seen the decision on whether to relicense the use of glyphosate having been put on hold, as the EU focuses on negotiating the UK’s departure as a matter of urgency.
These are initial thoughts on some of the key policy areas where it is critical that ornamental horticulture is considered alongside agriculture and forestry. During the next few years we may see a complete re-shaping of our regulatory environment. Now is the time for us to prepare our arguments, gather our statistics and case studies as evidence, and lobby for positive change.
What next - the Brexit process
Now that Article 50 has been triggered, the UK has a two year window to negotiate its exit and reach a deal with the EU. During this period, the UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and regulations, and retain full access to the single market, but is formally excluded from any decision making at the EU level, including from EU council meetings and will not take up its scheduled Presidency of the European Council in 2017.
Once a draft deal is agreed it will need to be ratified by at least 20 EU member states. If, however, a deal is not reached the UK will automatically leave – whether it accepts the terms on the table or not. This period can be extended, but this requires unanimous agreement of all member states and there have already been indications that this is not something that they would be willing to do.
The Brexit negotiations are complex and far-reaching, setting out the arrangements for cutting the ties between the UK and the EU. However, on top of this, the UK will need to start discussions with countries around the world to lay the groundwork for new trade deals (once UK is no longer part of the EU bloc). This can take many years. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP is leading the UK’s negotiating delegation under the instruction of the Prime Minister. Liam Fox MP as Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade is tasked with forging the international relationships that will be essential once the UK has formally left the EU.
Brexit will start a process of legislative review in the UK, as Parliament decides which EU statutes and regulations should be replicated, amended or replaced in UK law. Whilst elements of this will be linked to negotiations at the EU level, there will also be a clear and distinct domestic agenda – with many who voted for Brexit wanting to see the UK exercising its sovereignty and ridding itself of EU red tape. Whatever happens, we are likely to see the biggest legislative upheaval in British political history.
To do this, the Government will introduce a large number of technical bills before Parliament. This will reshape the regulatory environment for British businesses which will present both opportunities and threats. Key to all of this will be the balance between cutting un-wanted red tape and maintaining the necessary regulations to ensure the UK can continue to enjoy a significant trading relationship with the EU.
Options for the future
Whatever the outcome of the negotiations the UK’s decision to leave the EU will have a significant impact on the horticulture sector: the legislation that governs the sector; how and from where workers are recruited; and the nature of the UK’s trading relations.
The Prime Minister has stated she doesn’t necessarily envisage that the UK will adopt an ‘off-the-shelf’ model for Brexit, and that a tailored approach will be more appropriate. She has also continually reaffirmed that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ meaning that if the EU is placing too heavy demands on the UK to retain unfettered access to the single market then the UK is prepared to walk away from the negotiating table and revert to WTO trading rules.
It is clear that the greater the level of access the UK hopes to retain to the Single Market, the greater the level of EU regulation the UK will be compelled to accept as a condition of this access, and yet the UK will no longer have a voice in influencing or shaping such regulation.
Also, the ease with which a so-called divorce settlement can be agreed may determine the goodwill which will be carried forward into the trade talks.