Brexit has turned into a blooming disaster, say flower sellers
'Flower passports' ruin trade as supermarkets corner the market
25 June, 2021 — By Tom Foot
Harry Patel at his stand in Fitzjohn’s Avenue
TWO of the borough’s longest-serving flower sellers say they are struggling with massive price hikes post-Brexit.
John Atkins, who runs the stall in Pond Street, South End Green, and Harry Patel, who runs Harry’s Flowers in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, spoke to the New Journal this week about how leaving the EU has impacted their businesses.
Both have run stalls for more than 30 years and like the vast majority of traders in the UK they order flowers from Holland.
Since Brexit, new “flower passports” have been introduced and there is extra paperwork – and costs – for importers. It means popular stems are selling at “unheard of” prices – with tulips going for £10 a bunch.
Mr Atkins said: “I’ve told them boys in Holland when they have sensible prices to give me a call. They are saying it’s Brexit and the paperwork. But I can’t charge my customers those sort of prices, out of respect to them I won’t do it.
“The way it is now, tulips, for 10 stems – it would be a tenner a bunch. Normally they’re a fiver… £19.50 for lilies, £10 for roses.”
Mr Atkins said British traders bought from Holland because they had the best flowers but the long-standing import infrastructure was being destroyed by the new regulations post-Brexit.
He said the big chain supermarkets could easily absorb any extra cost of buying European flowers, adding: “I voted Remain. For me personally, they screwed this up because of a lot of stupid opinions about things.
“Now it has started affecting people. And these politicians, they don’t care – they are hunky dory anyway on their gold-plated pensions. Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson – they should be in the circus at Hampstead Heath, they’re looking for clowns there.”
Mr Atkins lost his father, John Atkins Snr, last year and was hit by an unacceptable delay at the coroner’s court during a “backlog of bodies” caused by Covid.
The father and son had worked on the stall together for 36 years. Mr Atkins said it was still “difficult” for him to think about going back to work without his father, but that he hoped he would be able to soon, after the latest wave of Covid has passed.
Mr Patel, who started selling flowers aged 13, took over the Fitzjohn’s Avenue fountain plot when there was a newspaper stand there.
Now aged 58 and having run the current stall for 35 years, he said: “For me now it’s 30-40 per cent more at least. The people in Holland, they are telling me they’ve never heard of tulips being so expensive. Ten pounds for a bunch? It’s unheard of. “
It’s hard enough at the moment with the ULEZ [Ultra Low Emission Zone] and that there’s no one really in the West End. Most of my business is men coming back from work or the shops and picking up flowers for their wives.”
On the issue of using UK grown alternatives, he said big business had killed off the English flower growing industry and what remained had been cornered by chain supermarkets.
“What happened was most of the land used by the English flower growers got bought up by property developers, gradually they disappeared – now this is happening in Holland too,” said Mr Patel.
“Why would you slave away growing flowers all your life when you can sell up for a few million? English flowers are not the greatest though really, what you see in the supermarkets, they’re not the best. If you look at those £1 daffodils they do, they’re quite mediocre.”
A new system of “physical checks” for cut flowers and plants has been brought in at border control. It means flowers brought into this country from abroad have to be ordered a week in advance.
A Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 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.”