Scottish fishing businesses descended on London to protest the severe disruption to their trade caused by Brexit bureaucracy.
“Brexit carnage” and “incompetent Government: destroying shellfish industry” proclaimed banners on some of the 20 trucks parked around Whitehall.
Boris Johnson said he sympathises “very, very much” and understands the “frustrations and concerns” of the industry, while pointing to a £23 million compensation fund for businesses suffering from Brexit bureaucracy.
The prime minister said “things have been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic” and that “unfortunately the demand in restaurants on the continent for UK fish has not been what it was”.
The Scottish seafood exporters were joined by English counterparts whose trade has been devastated since the start of the year – and the end of the UK’s transition period from the EU – with warnings that livelihoods are at stake and thousands of jobs at risk.
“The situation is almost unworkable and we need change,” said Mark Moore from Dartmouth Crab Company who joined the protest. “Our industry is spiralling downwards.”
‘We have access to 25% more fish than we did a month ago,’ says PM
The prime minister said the “problems at the moment” are caused by “teething problems, people not filling in the right forms or misunderstandings”.
He added: “When it’s not people’s fault, of course we’re going to compensate and to help. The funds are being put in place to do that.”
Despite the damage being done to the fishing industry, the prime minister defended the Brexit deal: “Be in no doubt there are opportunities across the whole of the UK to take advantage of the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom.
“In five-and-half-years time we will have access to all the fish in all of our coastal waters,” the PM said, reiterating that “we have access to 25% more [fish] than we did a month ago” thanks to the deal struck on Christmas Eve with the EU.
£100m fund to help fishing industry
However, the PM acknowledged the problems, saying: “What we’re going do is give people a helping hand”, and referred to the “£100 million fund [set up] to help people with their boats, the fish processing industry in this country, and to help rejuvenate the industry.”
Johnson said: “I sympathise very, very much and understand their frustrations and concerns,” adding: “Things have been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
“Unfortunately the demand in restaurants on the continent for UK fish has not been what it was before the pandemic, just because the restaurants have been closed for so long.
“That is one of the problems we are all trying to deal with,” he said, repeating that the problems have been “driven in a large part by the pandemic”.
The government has responded with “all sorts of measures to help businesses” said Johnson, pointing to a £23 million compensation fund for companies impacted by “bureaucracy delays”.
Penny starting to drop with Brexit carnage?
The irony of pro-Brexit fishing sector representatives descending on the capital just two-and-a-half weeks after the end of the transition period was relished on Twitter, where John McCartin posted: “Having been to the fore of vote-leave, UK fisheries now bemoan the imminent collapse of their industry due to #BrexitCarnage. Is the penny starting to drop?”
Responding to yesterday’s announcement that Cornwall will host the G7 meeting later this year, Fowey Aquarium, “Cornwall’s oldest Aquarium packed full of local marine life from the Estuary”, stated: “I’m updating my fish name board to reflect the #g7cornwall this year! @JoeBiden the Brill, @JustinTrudeau the turbot , Macron the Mackerel, @GiuseppeConteIT the Conger, Abe the anchovy, Merkel the mullet, and @BorisJohnson the Jellyfish. @JoeBiden got the best name!
Ports call for action and discussions with France
British ports have called on the government to start “urgent discussion” with France to reduce the bureaucracy for exporting fish.
The Financial Times reports the British Ports Association (BPA) is blaming a shortage of UK environmental health officers and the “extremely strict application” of the new rules for tariff free trade.
In a letter to Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister and one of the leaders of the Leave campaign, the BPA write: “[We urge you to hold] urgent discussions with your counterparts in the EU, particularly France, about a pragmatic approach to enforcement”.
Commons votes to keep £20 Universal Credit ‘uplift’
Meanwhile, in the Commons MPs passed a Labour motion to retain the temporary “uplift” in Universal Credit that is set to expire in April. The PM ordered his Conservative MPs to abstain, although eight rebels voted with Labour to register 278 votes for, and 0 against.
The debate was part of “Opposition Day” which allows the second biggest party to control the topic for debate.
Monday’s (January 18) vote puts no requirement on the government to introduce the legislation or in this case extend what amounts to £20 extra per week for six million people receiving Universal Credit.