Video report by ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills
Additional reporting by Jess Omari
It’s 5am and at Tom Brown Wholesale, in south-east London, the overnight delivery from Holland has been unloaded.
The stems are being packaged up and dispatched to florists around the UK.
Demand for flowers has soared during lockdown and the week running up to Valentine's Day is one of the busiest in the year. Prices are rising but Brexit is, in part, to blame.
The vast majority of the flowers we buy in the UK are imported from the European Union (EU).
To avoid tariffs, now that Brexit is done, those flowers need to be grown in the EU (or the UK) but most aren’t.
At Tom Brown, they buy their flowers at auction in the Netherlands but the red roses are originally from Ecuador, the yellow roses are from Ethiopia, the hydrangeas and carnations are from Columbia, the foliage is from Costa Rica.
As a result, these flowers are now taxed, adding 8% to the price.
“I wasn’t expecting tariffs, to be honest,” says John Davidson, the finance director. “I think originally we thought thought this was a zero-tariff, bi-lateral [Brexit] deal. It’s not. It doesn’t feel like a free-trade deal.”
The UK government began levying tariffs on cut flowers at the beginning of the year. FromApril 1, all cut flowers imported from the EU will require a phytosanitary certificate. They will also need to be inspected by a government official for pests and diseases.
This will add cost and some Dutch suppliers says it is also likely to delay delivery to the UK by an extra day. The average flower stem has a shelf life of 10 days.
The flower industry is worried about all the extra paperwork Brexit brings.
It wants the government to delay the introduction of phytosanitary checks on imports at theborder until it’s possible to submit forms online. And it predicts disruption on April 1 if plans don’t change.
“If the government doesn't offer an effective (IT) system with the opportunity for traders prepare, there will inevitably be delays, there will likely be shortages and, frankly, in simple terms, it will become a car crash,” says Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium.
The Fresh Produce Consortium estimates that the new customs rules and tariffs, post-Brexit, will add £100 million to the cost of importing cut flowers into the UK.
Feedback from its members suggests the wholesale price of stems in the UK is set to rise by between 5% and 10%.
Robbert Judels says he expects his prices to rise 10% to 15%
Vianen Flowers in the Netherlands supplies flowers to 160 wholesalers and florists in the UK.
Robbert Judels, the managing director, told ITV News that his prices would riseby “10-15%” as a result of Brexit.
Jane Adams, a wholesale florist in Hertfordshire, supplies around 40 florists locally. Jon Adams, the owner, told ITV News “costs keep going up and up and up and it makes it more and more difficult for small businesses to survive.
"You hear about fishermen who can't get their langoustines out to Spain when they catch it in Scotland, well, it's just as difficult for us bringing stuff in. Our flowers are highly perishable and we are really reliant on imported flowers in the UK.”
At Magnolia of Tring, one of the florists Jon supplies, three quarters of the flowers are imported from the EU. The shop is closed but the orders are coming in thick and fast by phone.
They’re starting to feel the inflation Brexit has caused.
“I’ve tried to absorb as much as I can but, unfortunately, I’ll have to pass some of (price rises) on to customers. No one wants to do that, but the price of everything is goingup,” explained Helen Mitchell, the owner.
“Covid means the price of a lot of sundries like vases and baskets have already increased dramatically along with shipping container costs. I can’t just take that on chin”.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the horticulture industry to ensure they can take advantage of the opportunities leaving the EU brings, and overall businesses are adjusting well to the new rules.
“As part of our phased transition to the new import controls for EU goods, physical checks on cut flowers will not begin until July, giving the industry time to prepare. From this point, all physical checks on regulated plants will be take place at designated Border Control Posts. This ensures that trade can continue to move smoothly.”