Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that new regulations following the end of the Brexit transition period are causing problems for the UK seafood sector, and has pledged compensation for those businesses affected.
He was answering questions yesterday at the House of Commons Liaison Committee, which represents the chairs of all the Commons select committees. In response to Hilary Benn, Chair of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, the PM said that he was aware of “temporary frustrations” and added: “We will compensate those fishing businesses… I don’t doubt there will be problems, but businesses must be prepared for change.”
Earlier, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson faced a grilling from SNP MP Ian Blackford, who cited the case of a constituent at Lochaber, a producer and exporter of shellfish, who had to write off a shipment worth £40,000 because of bureaucratic delays. Blackford said: “He is experiencing his worst nightmare.”
Johnson retorted that the SNP’s policy was to rejoin the European Union and that this would adversely affect fishing quotas for Scotland.
Meanwhile the Scottish government’s Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, has urged the UK Government to provide compensation to Scotland’s beleaguered food and drink sector as a result of the current trade issues.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice, Mr Ewing said: “As I had feared, the relationship negotiated by the UK Government is having a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s food and drink export industry. The situation has slowly progressed from bad to worse… I am writing to demand that you set out urgently how Scotland’s exporters will be compensated for their losses both in the short term and the long term caused by reputational damage.”
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said: “We welcome Boris Johnson’s unequivocal promise of compensation for fisheries businesses affected by the nightmarish bureaucratic hurdles that have been erected since 1 January.
“This is just what we have been calling for in numerous meetings with government officials over the past few days. We now look forward to engaging with the government on the detail of the package on offer and working with both the UK and Scottish governments to clear the path for exports to resume as normal.”
Seafood Scotland reports that many species of Scottish seafood have experienced a price drop of around 40-50% at market this week. This is because processors and intermediaries are not buying, as they are not guaranteed to be able to sell seafood on to EU customers.
The organisation is calling for a “grace period” to effectively extend the Brexit transition for six months, and also for urgent action to be taken to iron out the elements in the system that are causing confusion and delay.
Donna Fordyce, Chief Executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “The sector is at rock-bottom and needs space to breathe. Trying to navigate the system we have at the moment is like pushing water uphill, and it is not improving. Getting anything out of the UK into the EU is being achieved by luck rather than design. In the meantime, businesses that have been operating for generations, the people that work for them, and their families and communities are bearing the brunt of the issues.
“Everyone has their sleeves rolled up desperately trying to help companies meet the requirements for export, but at the heart of it, the UK system needs fixed. This cannot be done while it is live. This was inevitable, given such a complicated process was put together at the last minute. With some breathing space, the system can be fixed and rebooted, and companies will then be able to keep moving.”