MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Valentine's Day is huge for florists around the world. But in the United Kingdom, the risk of crashing out of the European Union next month has cast a shadow over the industry. Many shops fear their lifeline to flower supplies in Europe could be severely disrupted. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from the English town of Witney.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Rosa Ashby's wrapping up a bouquet of roses and lilies at her shop, Rosa Flowers, in Oxfordshire. They're part of a wide selection of flowers she offers, most of which come from the same place.
ROSA ASHBY: These all come from Holland. The lilies come from Holland, and the spray chrysanths (ph) come from Holland.
LANGFITT: Up until now, the flowers have flowed seamlessly across the border because the U.K. is part of the massive EU single market. But the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU late next month, and there is still no deal on how to keep trade flowing.
ASHBY: We're very worried. We don't know what's going to happen on the 29. Government don't know. Nobody knows. And our worry is, when will we get the flowers? What price will they be if tariffs go on?
LANGFITT: The government insists the majority of EU plants and flowers will continue to enter the U.K. without health checks. But businesses of all sorts are worried about a no-deal Brexit. Some have been filling up warehouses across the country with everything from auto parts to ice cream in case trade slows dramatically. Ashby's industry doesn't have that luxury.
ASHBY: We can't have a contingency plan. We can't stockpile our goods because they're fresh flowers. We're only a small business. Coming up to our 22nd Valentine's, it's so sad.
BRIAN WILLS-POPE: I'm Brian Wills-Pope, and I chair the British Florist Association here in the United Kingdom.
LANGFITT: Wills-Pope, who spoke over Skype, says Ashby's plight is typical.
WILLS-POPE: Eighty percent of our flowers actually come from Holland, so they come via the Eurotunnel or ferry.
LANGFITT: And Wills-Pope says that dependency, developed over decades while the U.K. has been inside the EU, now poses a threat to flower sellers here.
WILLS-POPE: We are looking at something which is unprecedented in the 40 years that we've been part of that single market because as time's evolved, the English growers have sewed up and their nurseries have been built on. And more and more, production's been gone to Holland.
BARRY SNAPPER: Snapdragons, 10?
SNAPPER: No? No phlox? I can do small amounts.
ASHBY: No, no.
ASHBY: Finito, finito...
LANGFITT: Back in Witney, one of Rosa Ashby's suppliers has arrived from Holland. His name's Barry Snapper, and he's just come through the Channel Tunnel with his refrigerated semi packed with flowers. Ashby and Snapper haggle as they have every Wednesday for at least the past six years. I ask Snapper what he fears most from a no-deal Brexit.
SNAPPER: All the extra duties probably - the import duties, charges, waiting at the Eurotunnel to come across.
LANGFITT: Snapper says that would force people like him to raise prices, which he thinks shops here will have a hard time passing on.
SNAPPER: A lot of people will struggle to sell flowers to the public. People - well, they're still going to buy food and everything, but they can skip the flowers.
LANGFITT: How important is the U.K. to your business?
SNAPPER: I only supply to the U.K. at the moment. People say to me, do you want to export to another country? But I've been coming over for over 20 years to Britain. And yeah, it's too difficult, I think, to go to another country now.
LANGFITT: Some of Snapper's clients say Valentine's Day orders are down, which they attribute to Brexit uncertainty. Snapper has been trying to calm their fears.
SNAPPER: I always say the same. It's 14 of February. It's men, and they come in last minute. And it's the same story every year. It's always on the day itself or the day after even (laughter).
LANGFITT: British flower shops are planning ahead. They're ordering early for Mother's Day, which in the U.K. falls on March 31, two days after the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Witney, England.
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