'How dare they?' EU bullies block UK bid to stop deadly tree disease

The UK Government announced a package of measures in April aimed at preventing the spread of Xylella fastidiosa, a disease which has already wiped out olive groves in the southern Italy, and which can also infect 520 species of plants in this country, including oak trees. The Government sought to ban the import of coffee plants and myrtle leaf milkwort, as well as introducing strict controls on olive, rosemary, lavender, almond and oleander, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announcing the tough new rules in April.

However, they have been effectively blocked by Brussels – at least until the end of the year – after EU Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said they were in controvention of EU plant health regulations.

Specifically, the EU argues the UK rules are disproportionate and without scientific justification.

Defra has indicated it will reluctantly abide by the ruling, while voicing its objections.

Baron Framlingham, who now sits in the House of Lords, but who, as Michael Lord, served as Tory MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich from 1997 to 2010, was angered by the move.

Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission has effectively blocked Defra’s import curbs (Image: GETTY)

Baron Framlingham

Baron Framlingham speaking in the Commons in 2009, when he was known as Michael Lord (Image: PA)

How dare they do this when we are about to leave them anyway?

Baron Framlingham

He told the Telegraph: “It is quite outrageous for the EU Commission to bully us in this way.

“How dare they do this when we are about to leave them anyway?

“We are an island nation and we need to take control of our imports.”

Baron Framlingham, who is also a former chairman of the Arboricultural Association, added: “We wanted to take steps to protect our trees and plants but the government has been stopped by the EU. It is ridiculous.

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EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides (Image: GETTY)

“I can’t believe the government is as impotent as this.

“We must try and overturn it. The threat to our trees is too great.”

Xylella host plants being exported to Britain could only be sourced from areas in a 200m radius that had been free of the disease for at least one year.

The Commission had objected to the stringent UK restrictions, which would have meant all exports of plants capable of being infected by Xylella could only be sourced from areas in a 200m radius which had been free of the disease for a period of at least one year.

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Olive tree Xylella

Olive trees devastated by Xylella in Italy (Image: GETTY)

Froghoppers

Xylella is spread by froghoppers and other insects (Image: GETTY)

Any outbreak in the UK would have far reaching consequences – advice carried on the John Innes Centre, an independent Norfolk-based facility specialising in plant and microbial science, warned: “If infected plants are identified on arrival, action may be limited to destroying the affected plants and any potential hosts in close proximity.

“Where there is evidence that the disease has spread, actions are likely to include: destruction of all host plants within 100 m of the infected plants; thorough surveys for further infected plants and vectors; and movement controls in a 5 km buffer zone.

“Xylella has the potential to cause significant damage to the horticultural trade and wider environment if it were to become established in the UK.”

Nicola Spence

Nicola Spence tweeted about the issue last week (Image: Twitter)

A statement issued by Defra in response to the EU’s ruling said: “The UK disagrees with the conclusions and are disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken to extend the UK measures across the EU, providing enhanced protections for the EU’s member states.

“The biosecurity threat regarding these pests has not changed and therefore the reason for introducing stronger requirements has not changed.

“We will keep the need for any further actions under review in light of the ongoing risk situation, including developments in the EU and the results of our own surveillance.”

Xylella, a bacterial disease, is spread by insects such as leafhoppers, froghoppers and spittlebugs, and has no known cure.

Oak trees

Oak trees can be affected by Xylella (Image: GETTY)

It has been found in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium.

Infected plants were found at the port of Castellan, Spain last week, prompting Nicola Spence, the Government’s Chief Plant Health Officer, to tweet: “This is why the EU needs stringent controls for Xylella.”

She also shared a pictured of a lavender plant for sale in the UK, commenting: “Great to see British grown lavender. Grown in Sussex no real need to import Xylella.”

Express.co.uk has contacted Defra to ask whether new rules will be brought in once the UK is free from all EU regulations on December 31.



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