Scotland’s salmon farmers have today called for time-critical perishable seafood products to be given priority access to the reopened Channel crossings. They have also raised the question of compensation for losses arising from the closure.
Yesterday the UK and France agreed a protocol to partially lift the travel ban, which was imposed in response to a new strain of Covid-19 detected in England. The agreement means hauliers, French citizens and British nationals living in France will be allowed to enter French ports as long as they have tested negative for Covid-19 within the last 72 hours.
The French authorities have accepted that “rapid flow” testing can be used, although this is known to be less accurate than PCR lab tests, which take 24 hours. Military personnel are joining NHS Test and Trace staff to administer the tests.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), the trade body for the UK’s salmon producers, has welcomed the decision to reopen routes into France for freight. It has called, however, for the UK and French governments to prioritise the movement of perishable goods, particularly fish and seafood from Scotland.
The UK Government has already drawn up plans – known as “Operation Brock” – to prioritise seafood if cross-Channel routes become delayed following the end-of-transition Brexit changeover on 1 January.
The SSPO has now called on the UK Government to bring those plans forward and implement them now, to help seafood deliveries get to France before they lose their value.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the SSPO, said: “The UK Government has, rightly, got a clear plan to prioritise perishable seafood products for the Channel crossing in the event of queues forming after Brexit comes into force at the end of this year.
“We need to have those plans put into operation now. Our producers have lost millions of pounds since the border was closed on Sunday night.
“They need urgent action to be taken now to prevent this crisis turning into a disaster. Drivers of seafood consignments, particularly those that have travelled the length of the UK to get to the Channel, need to be given priority early access, both to the Covid tests and to the Channel crossings.”
Some lorries carrying seafood and other perishable goods have had to turn back while some salmon companies have had to cancel harvest plans, the SSPO said, leaving European customers without fish they were expecting.
The huge backlog on the UK side of the Channel means it will be some considerable time before operations return to normal. There are an estimated 3,000-plus lorries parked at Manston Airport in Kent, and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it could take “a few days” to clear the backlog.
The SSPO’s Tavish Scott also said it was time the UK Government started to consider the issue of compensation and the losses salmon farmers have had to endure because of this closure in the busiest week of the year.
He added: “Our members have lost market share and money for reasons entirely outside their control and this has come on top of the most difficult trading year our sector has ever experienced.
“A conservative estimate puts the losses for our members at several million pounds, just from these last two days of deadlock. We expect the UK Government to consider seriously the issue of compensation.”