What we need is a system where any product from abroad – whether the EU or the rest of the world – should be deemed infected unless proved to the contrary and automatically excluded. This should apply to all but exceptional circumstances, where we are able to define specific measures which will guarantee freedom from infection.
Here, it is not the EU that we should be looking to for our control model, but to Australia. There, the DAFF website
sets out the rationale. Australia, it says, "is free from some of the world's major agricultural and aquatic pests and diseases, and is a world leader in animal welfare. This 'clean and green' status provides us with a major trading advantage and access to overseas markets".
One can easily see how this would be rejected by the EU – because it would give us "a major trading advantage". The EU ethos has always been to share the misery, so that we have never been allowed under EU rules to capitalise on our island geography.
However, this beggar-my-neighbour policy is both niggardly and shortsighted. With 90 percent of Ash trees in Denmark infected, the Danish authorities were looking to the UK from which to obtain healthy stock. In other words, the presence of an offshore island, which can be kept as an infection-free reservoir, is an EU as well as a national asset.
The Government, we are told, is currently in talks with other member states on updating the EU Plant Health Regime, but tweaking round the edges is not enough. We need a complete rethink here. It may be the case that no man is an island, but the UK most certainly is, and it is about time that the EU recognised it.