‘Unworkable’ post-Brexit checks to send potato prices up

A potato trader working across Europe has warned new post-Brexit border checks will put prices up for shoppers, with “unworkable” rules around soil limits leading full containers to be rejected.

Steve Thornber has imported new potatoes from Mallorca for more than 25 years, but has recently had two trucks of product destined for Waitrose and Marks and Spencer sent back, on the grounds that they contained more than 1% soil.

See also: Extreme weather forces UK to import ‘significantly’ more veg

For 100 years, Mallorcan potatoes have been imported before the British season starts to boost sales.

But now he claims the new 1% soil rule, that is due to be introduced formally on 30 April as part of new post-Brexit checks on imports and which border officials have been pre-empting, will act as an “effective ban”.

“A lot of people voiced their concerns that this is ridiculous, because 1% is just like dust,” said Mr Thornber.

“If you sweep the truck out and brush the container, there’d be more than 1% soil. It’s an unworkable rule and we were told unofficially that it wouldn’t ever be applied. But it’s being applied.”

Mr Thornber went on to say the problems would be exacerbated by the difficulties domestic growers are facing due to the weather.

“Prices will go through the roof,” he said.

“It’s going to mean less choice and higher prices, and that’s without outside influences like a bigger war in Europe or worse growing conditions in Europe.”

Other potato traders covering Mallorca have been hit by the same issues, with one resorting to hiring 14 people to brush every single potato before bagging them and sending them back, following rejection of a consignment.

But potatoes from other countries such as Cyprus, Italy and Israel have been able to enter the UK.

“If [the 1% rule] was applied across the board, potatoes would be one of the most expensive items in the supermarket,” said Mr Thornber.

He is calling for the 1% limit to be increased to at least 5%.

Defra confirmed that the 1% rule exists.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting businesses as they adapt to new border checks and to maintaining the smooth flow of imported goods.

“There are requirements on soil presence when importing potatoes from some EU countries, including Spain, to protect against harmful pests, which would have a devastating impact on our hard-working farmers if they ever reached our shores.”