What might Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson's approach to Brexit mean for horticulture?

Nursery owners and retailers are concerned about the potential of a hard Brexit should Boris Johnson become prime minister on 22 July, but believe they will "find a way" to beat any possible disruption that may arise.

Johnson, who is the clear frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race, has insisted that the UK must leave the EU with or without a deal by 31 October.

Bransford Webbs managing director Adrian Marskell says: "For us, a hard Brexit will give minimal disruption. The nursery has just 4% turnover from traded plants from the continent. The hardest bit is young plants from Holland, but so many Dutch companies are setting up UK offices — they will find a way around it. We still propagate half of what we grow. We have a very strong propagation unit. We’re not getting too upset about it. It needs to be done, regardless of horticulture."

Javado partner Chris Campbell, who imports plants from Holland, is more critical, saying: "Boris will blow hot and cold. We want certainty but he won’t deliver it. We don’t need personality and blunderbuss ego. We want down-to-earth policy. The raw materials come from Europe — cuttings, trays, compost. British horticulture has a European foundation and we need a smooth flow of product."

Campbell says there will be more form-filling and regulations, though the 31 October date gives the trade the winter to get used to any new red tape, adding that Brexit uncertainty has had no influence on sales, with double-digit growth the norm with many customers. 

Asset to the industry

Hillview Group's Boyd Douglas-Davies says Johnson could be an asset to the industry: "Boris was behind the tree campaign in London when he was mayor, therefore we have a friend in an important seat. He values our industry and that's a big plus."

Harkness Roses' Philip Harkness says red tape will be an issue. "The main change will be plants going in and out of Europe will have to have phytosanitary certificates, which means additional costs for exports and imports. It all probably depends how much inspecting gets done and how effective the system is. It is likely to affect retail transactions between the UK and EU rather than wholesalers as relative costs of certificates for a lorryload are not significant."

Newey Group's Alex Newey believes sterling is the biggest concern. "My own view is we are heading for a no-deal Brexit or hard Brexit. That's definitely on the cards," he says. "The question around the value of sterling is an important one. The value of the pound at the moment is reflecting a no-deal position, so there's a chance it might move back in our favour once 31 October passes."

New Leaf Plants' David Higginson suggests home-grown has benefitted since the leave vote in 2016. "Brexit at the moment has been a quite positive thing for the industry because people are wanting to buy more British-grown product," he says. "For our business it has been great because we're propagating as well as growing. I'm not too sure about a hard Brexit. I'd like to see us leave with a deal."

Timing is key, according Earley Ornamentals' Simon Earley. "A hard Brexit at the end of October won't have a great effect on us because we'll have not started production for the new season and orders have finished by the end of October. But if it drags on, because we buy so much in Euroland, we could run out of trays, seeds and compost." Wyevale Nurseries' Andy Johnson adds that the October date affects amenity business rather than a spring Brexit, which would interrupt retail supplies.



Christmas tree imports

The 31 October date could impact Christmas tree imports, says Needlefresh director Christopher Hood. Extra transport expenses could be among additional costs for importers.

Rory Paton of Pinetops says attracting workers could become harder, while the euro becoming really strong "is a double-edged sword". Porters Fuchsias' Nat Porter says Brexit will boost the home-grown mentality of consumers and Stephanie Dunn-James of Frank P Matthews believes the situation has been beneficial from a home-grown trees demand point of view, saying: "We grow most of our trees but we do have relations with growers on the continent so it could be more difficult there. We face the same challenges as any other grower. We just hope demand for UK-grown outweighs any negatives."

Craigmarloch director Kenny Wilson says there is a robust market in the UK but more clarity is needed from Government. "European producers seem to know more than us, but we’ll always find a way," he adds. Craigmarloch plans to build five or six acres more glass in 2020. "Uncertainty about Brexit is not going to hold us bac, because the UK market will still be buoyant and hopefully increase."

Pentland Plants' David Spray says: "Boris doesn’t know the word 'reason'. He'll just go for expediency. No-deal is not good for us but a lot of people think it will be good. You pay your money and take your choice."

Tory leadership contenders

  • Boris Johnson Seen as hard Brexiteer
  • Jeremy Hunt Won't leave "at any cost" and could delay Brexit

Timetable

  • 22 July New Conservative Party leader announced
  • 31 October EU leave date

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