British diggers and farm machinery now banned from Northern Ireland without soil-free ‘wash certificate’, due to Irish Sea border

Second hand agricultural machinery such as diggers, tractors and ploughs are unable to travel from GB to Northern Ireland without a new bureaucratic process which is already pushing up prices by £200, it can be revealed.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 7:56 am
Boris Johnson used a JCB emblazoned with the words ‘Get Brexit Done’ for a PR stunt – but he couldn’t bring the digger to NI without a ‘wash certificate’

The Irish Sea border rules – stemming from the ban on British soil being brought into Northern Ireland – have already led to a digger being stopped from boarding a ferry, a senior freight industry figure said yesterday.

Another veteran haulier said that the new red tape, on top of complex new customs processes, was “a disaster”.

The rules agreed by the government mean that Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister who during the 2019 general election campaign used a JCB emblazoned with the words ‘Get Brexit Done’ to break down a wall, would now be unable to bring that digger to Northern Ireland without certifying that it was free of soil.

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The News Letter asked a series of questions of Stormont’s DUP-run Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), including whether the DUP minister would order his officials to stop enforcing the new checks.

At the time of going to press, there had been no response.

Yesterday Seamus Leheny, the NI representative for Logistics UK, told Good Morning Ulster that the issue of soil needed to be considered by the UK-EU Joint Committee, the body overseeing the NI Protocol, the agreement which created the Irish Sea border.

Mr Leheny said that last week he spoke to a business that was taking machinery back from GB. He said: “There was soil on the tracks of the digger.

“The digger wasn’t allowed to come to Northern Ireland until it was fully power-washed and cleaned.”

Mr Leheny added: “My understanding is that the digger was inspected and soil was found beneath the mat, and that had to be cleaned out.”

Those checks were carried out by officials under the control of DAERA minister Edwin Poots but Mr Leheny said that they could not be blamed because they were doing what the law required.

Guidelines published on the DAERA website lists “second hand machinery which has been used for agricultural, forestry, horticultural or soil preparation/cultivation purposes” in a list of “regulated plants and plant products” which require Phytosanitary Certificate issued by the competent authority in GB, confirming the consignment is free from relevant pests and diseases”. The person buying the machinery would also have to register as an “importer” with the EU, the department said.

Colin Holmes, who has four decades of experience as a specialist haulier handling second hand agricultural machinery, told the News Letter that for years there had been a requirement to wash farm equipment before bringing it into Northern Ireland.

However, what he said had been reasonable visual inspections were now far more onerous and bureaucratic – and that was immediately pushing up prices.

He said that it was now necessary to obtain a new ‘wash certificate’ with each item of machinery there is “a wee bit of leeway on it at the minute, that’s coming to an end”.

The veteran haulier said that the process was now “far too stringent” and “people who have been washing the stuff for years and it was clean enough to go on the boat are now being turned down at the port by DEFRA officers”.

The Larne businessman said that officials were “crawling underneath machinery with hand lamps and inspection lights and mirrors and finding dirt”.

Mr Holmes added: “That’s the specification you need to send machinery to Scandinavia but as we’re all part of the UK, I can’t see how this nonsense comes into it.”

As a result, he said that sellers are now charging an additional £200 to get machinery washed to the new exacting standard but that many English dealers now don’t want to sell to Northern Ireland at all.

He said that one Scottish seller had been refused permission to move a washed piece of machinery to Northern Ireland because officials wanted the hitch taken off so that behind it could be cleaned, and the interior of the cab cleaned.

Mr Holmes said that he was primarily a businessman and “not politically minded in any way” but that Boris Johnson had handled Brexit “very poorly”.

The haulier added of the Prime Minister: “He’s no interest in Northern Ireland whatsoever”.

He said that the washing process was on top of the new customs red tape necessary to move anything from GB to NI, something which had seen a day and a half taken up trying to clear “one simple load” and in another case 21 emails back and forth to secure customs clearance.

TUV leader Jim Allister, a former MEP, said: “This illustrates the ridiculous extent to which the tentacles of the Irish Sea border now reach.

“You can’t even bring in a tractor or any other piece agricultural equipment into Northern Ireland without something ludicrously called a wash certificate to prove that it’s not carrying any British soil.

“The matter is beyond parody. Yet that is the day to day reality that is affecting businesses which import second hand agricultural machinery.”

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