Northern Ireland Protocol: Florist says it severed his GB suppliers and doubled his costs

A Co Down florist says the NI Protocol has forced him to cut ties with all his suppliers in England and double his costs due to being now forced to buy from the Republic of Ireland and Holland.

By Philip Bradfield
Friday, 17th June 2022, 6:55 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th June 2022, 11:31 am

Stephen Watson from Watsons Flowers and Gifts in Ballynahinch said the problems began soon after the Protocol was put in place. Initially had a lot more paperwork to cope with as a result.

“At the start our regular suppliers out of GB had difficulty getting stuff across,” he told the News Letter.

“It became so difficult that some of our suppliers said: ‘No we are not shipping to Northern Ireland’. They pulled the plug on us. And then I had to try and organise my own transport to collect goods from them.”

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Stephen Watson says the Protocol restrictions he suffers are irrelevant because he does not sell into the EU.

“Quite a lot of them stopped shipping to us because of the amount of paperwork involved. We had to fill out an awful lot of paperwork to get stuff across.”

He feels they were forced to take drastic action “because of all the hassle and stress of it and beating your head off a brick wall”.

“The option that has been forced on us has been to buy through the south [of Ireland] or buy through Holland instead of England.”

However he says that buying from these countries is “far more expensive”.

The Protocol has impacted both the flowers and gifts side of the business.

“Most of the gifts that were available to us that were coming out of England - we had awful trouble trying to get them after the Protocol.”

The gift business sells items such as cuddly toys, picture frames, household ornaments, lamp burners and candles and chocolates.

“My wife would normally buy all that gift stuff but I know I had awful troubles trying to source stuff elsewhere .”

There were particular difficulties in any plants or related goods that had soil bedding.

“Some of the plants we could not buy in - anything with soil we had problems with getting from England.”

As a result they had no choice but to start to any products with soil bedding from suppliers in the Republic of Ireland or Holland, which are both in the EU.

“It became much easier to buy stuff out of Holland than it did out of England.”

He has seen dramatic increases in his costs due as a result, he says.

“I would say our costs have gone up about 40% on my sundries. The majority of my flowers have doubled in price”.

His new suppliers in the EU “have the market completely closed” and “set the price” as they see fit, he says.

His prices to customers have had to rise “considerably” as a result. “It is eating into our own profit margin.”

He has found it all very stressful “because I don’t feel I have a choice anymore. I feel my choices are being dictated to me - it is not a free market.

“I just don’t see why there needs to be such restrictions on my goods, because I don’t sell into the EU. The whole point of the Protocol is to stop goods from GB being sold into the south which is the EU. But all my goods are sold around Ballynahinch and the local Co Down area.”

He says he knows other businesses that have been having similar struggles bringing in goods from GB - petrol stations having trouble bringing in food, off licences and hardware stores.

The Consumer Council says at least 130 companies have stopped supplying to NI while Secretary of State Brandon Lewis puts the figure at 200. UFU president David Brown said this week that while some parts of the NI Protocol are working for several commodities “it is causing havoc for others”.

Also this week the Presbyterian Church spokesman Rev Trevor Gribben said the Protocol “is not working” and that it has “unbalanced the delicate settlement that is the Good Friday Agreement”.

Stuart Anderson, Head of Public Affairs at the NI Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said recently that the “big problem” with commentary on the protocol is that its trade advantages and disadvantages are being “used as competing narratives when they don’t need to be”. He affirmed that buying goods in from GB is posing real problems. “Let me be absolutely clear, GB-NI issues are real,” he tweeted.

:: Are you finding difficulties bringing in goods from GB due to the NI Protocol? Please email us at [email protected]