Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has led an urgent debate today in Parliament on the impact on fisheries from the new trading relationship with the EU. He attacked the Government’s backtracking on compensation and refusal to agree to a meeting with those affected by disruption.
Brexit chaos is is costing the Scottish fishing industry £1million a day, with time-consuming new customs and health paperwork sparking long delays. In another alarming development some fish prices have plummeted by 80 per cent at Peterhead Fish Market, while a third of Scotland's fishing fleet is now tied up in the harbour.
Mr Carmichael raised these concerns and more in his speech (full text in notes) and offered to set up a meeting with ministers and those affected:
Responding for the Government, DEFRA Secretary George Eustice said:
“We are looking and working very closely with industry on this matter. We’re having twice a week meetings with all of the key stakeholders, all of the key sectors to help them understand these issues.
“They are only teething problems - once people get used to using the paperwork goods will flow normally. Of course, it would have been open to the EU to offer us a grace period just as we have had a grace period for their goods coming to us. For reasons known only to the EU and the way that they approach their particular regulations that wasn’t something they were willing to do, so we’ve had to work with these arrangements from a standing start, and that clearly causes certain issues.
“As I said in my opening statement, after that period we are free to change access arrangements and change area arrangements and we will do so. It’s important to note that Defra have all of the information on all of the swaps that have taken place in recent years, since each of those PO-to-PO swaps requires the government to agree them. It is, therefore, quite possible for us to build those swaps into the annual exchanges. Annual exchanges of fishing opportunities are a normal feature of annual negotiations, and we retain the ability to be able to do in year swaps as well on behalf of those POs.
“I am aware that the Prime Minister mentioned yesterday that the government remains open to considering compensation for sectors that might have been affected through no fault of their own. We will look closely at this issue, but in the meantime, we are going to work very closely with industry to ensure that we can iron out these difficulties.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“The Prime Minister and Victoria Prentis set the bar yesterday pretty low but George Eustice brought it clattering down today with a performance of breath-taking complacency.
“Repeating the Prime Minister’s blithe assertion that all the disruption for fishermen is just “teething problems” suggests a total lack of engagement with the real issues which are growing day by day. It is frankly insulting to the industry that he is already backtracking on the PM’s offer of compensation yesterday.
“Continuing to boast about increased quota shares when fishermen know that much of this is "paper fish" that we will never catch adds insult to injury.
“Of course it is important that we have tariff free access but that only matters when you get your fish into someone else's market. At the moment Scottish Fishermen cannot get their product past Larkhall. George Eustice entirely ignored my offer to set up a meeting with those affected – he needs to recognise that whatever he thinks he is doing it is not good enough.”