THE trade in used plant and machinery exports from Great Britain (GB) to Northern Ireland (NI) is the latest to have run afoul of the hidden consequences of Brexit.

Amid a flurry of news reports on the blocking of tree exports, fears were raised that used machinery sales could also sink due to the NI Protocol nightmare.

Second-hand agricultural and forestry machinery including diggers and tractors was unable to travel from GB to Northern Ireland without becoming embroiled in a new bureaucratic process.

Equipment was effectively banned from Northern Ireland without a soil-free ‘wash certificate’ due to the new post-Brexit border in the Irish Sea. The new ruling was reported to be pushing up prices by £200 a time.

The situation came to light following reports of a digger being barred from Northern Ireland until it was power-washed and cleaned to remove every last crumb of GB soil. Checks discovering soil on the tracks and under the mat were carried out by officials under the control of DAERA, doing what the current post-Brexit law requires.

Guidelines published on the DAERA website list “second-hand machinery which has been used for agricultural, forestry, horticultural or soil preparation/cultivation purposes” within a list of ‘regulated plants and plant products’ requiring a phytosanitary certificate issued by a competent authority in GB, confirming the consignment is free from relevant pests and diseases.

READ MORE: UK unilaterally cleans up Northern Ireland’s soil problem

Other sources say there has always been a requirement to wash such equipment before bringing it into NI, but it was now a matter of degree, with reasonable visual inspections replaced by ‘microscopic investigation’, pushing up prices by hundreds of pounds for each and every piece of machinery now requiring a wash certificate.

Press reports suggested sellers of machinery were being charged an additional £200 to get an item of machinery washed to the new, exacting standard, and many GB dealers now didn’t want to sell to NI at any price.

On 3 March the tight rules on movement of agricultural and forestry machinery from GB into NI under the NI Protocol were unilaterally lifted by the UK Government. Traders were told they could now move machinery without the need for a phytosanitary certificate, provided excessive soil and plant debris is removed by washing beforehand. This is clearly an announcement that traders were desperate for, but raises intriguing questions.

The requirement for phytosanitary certification is in the NI Protocol as part of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement is described as an international agreement binding both parties as a matter of public international law and as such requiring consent of both parties before any change can be effected.

Biosecurity against the transfer of plant pests and diseases from GB into Northern Ireland, because the latter has a ‘check-free’ border with EU territory (Republic of Ireland), is why phytosanitary certificates were demanded and negotiated for by the EU. Whether removal of all soil and plant debris was ever a reasonable demand is one thing. However, only removing excessive soil and plant debris from used agricultural and forestry machinery will not eliminate the potential threat of pest and disease transfer.

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