Conservative manifesto offers little change in EU trade

fishing trawler

The Conservative Party’s 2024 manifesto promises continued support of the fishing and aquaculture sectors through the £100m Seafood Fund but offers scant comfort to the industry in terms of easing trade with the European Union.

The UK Seafood Fund was set up to compensate for the end of EU funding for the industry after Brexit. The Conservative Manifesto says: “We will replicate the £100 million UK Seafood Fund to continue to support the sector to thrive. The fund could be used to invest in harbour and fish market upgrades, provide new equipment and technology for fish processing or to support our growing aquaculture sector. We will particularly concentrate funding on small and medium sized businesses and the inshore fishing fleet.

“Recognising competing pressure on marine space, we will also seek opportunities to back the inshore fleet when making marine planning decisions.”

On two other key issues for the seafood industry, the manifesto is less supportive. It includes a robust defence of the current Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU and states: “We will build on it but will not agree to anything in the forthcoming review
of the TCA that would infringe our legal sovereignty or involve submission to the CJEU or dynamic alignment.”

This would appear to rule out an agreement on aligning plant and veterinary health (“phyto-sanitary”) regulations, which many seafood producers say is necessary to address trade barriers which have arisen post-Brexit.

There is also a promise to tighten immigration rules still further, potentially making hiring more difficult for industries already struggling to recruit.

The manifesto says: “Going forward, we will raise the Skilled Worker threshold and Family income requirement with inflation automatically to make sure they don’t undercut UK workers.”

It also promises, however to: “…stick to our plan to support the agricultural sector with the labour it needs to maintain our food security, while moving away from the reliance on seasonal migrant labour with a five-year visa tapered scheme, alongside clear investment in automation and promoting agri-food careers and skills.”

worker in apron cutting fish

Salmon processing

Liberal democrats promise action on the environment

The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to introduce a strategic “Land and Sea Framework” to balance competing demands on our land and oceans. This presumably would apply in waters off England and Wales, as marine planning is a devolved issue for Scotland.

The Lib Dems would aim to rebuild depleted fish stocks, including imposing a ban on bottom trawling in protected marine areas. The manifesto says: “Fisheries, scientists and conservationists should all be at the centre of a decentralised and regionalised fisheries management system.”

The party wants to introduce a general duty of care for the environment, for all businesses. It would also bring in a new Animal Welfare bill, including barring the import of any animal products – like foie gras – that would not be legal to produce in the UK.

It would also seek to at least match for strictness the EU’s rules on preventive antibiotic use in farming and aquaculture.

Regarding Europe, the Liberal Democrats want to see a deepening trade relationship with the EU including “comprehensive veterinary and plant health agreements and mutual recognition agreements.”

Manifestoes from Labour and the Scottish National Party are expected to be published soon and the UK General Election takes place on 4 July.

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