Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has criticised the Minister in charge of Brexit planning, Michael Gove, for suggesting that it would be a “wee while yet” before the outcome of trade disruption for exporters was clear. Mr Carmichael highlighted broken promises by the Government about not introducing trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and asked why there had been no “grace period” allowed for exporters of perishable goods like seafood, which have been severely affected by disruption in the last two weeks.
Speaking remotely in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“I have lost count of the number of occasions at which [the Minister] gave us all sorts of assurances that there would be no barriers to free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and it gives me no pleasure to reflect that that is manifestly now not the case. We do at least though have a grace period to get things right, and it is up to the right honourable gentleman to ensure that that happens.
“Can he confirm for me though, whether or not the changes to groupage regulation that he has referred to will also be effective for traders exporting from the rest of the United Kingdom to the European Union, especially for seafood exporters?
“Why did we not have a grace period for exporters of perishable goods such as seafood? Surely that would have been sensible, with the benefit of hindsight at least?”
Responding for the Government, Michael Gove MP said:
“I think it’s important to stress that there is unfettered access for goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The new processes that the Protocol has created are about trade from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, and it’s those specific challenges that we are addressing at the moment.
“He makes a point about groupage which I think is entirely right. Our response to the challenges faced by hauliers and traders must be one that works not just for access to Northern Ireland but also for access to the rest of the EU, and that applies particularly to those who are responsible for perishable goods, including the many outstanding companies in his constituency which I had a chance thanks to his kindness to talk to about the challenges and opportunities of Brexit.
“On his final point, hindsight – well let us wait and see for a wee while yet before we can all definitively say what has been successful and what has not.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“We don't need a “wee while yet” to know that Scottish seafood exporters are losing a £1m every day due to the Government's failure to secure a grace period for their trading conditions – a figure not from myself but from James Withers of Scotland Food and Drink, who ought to know better than most.
“Recognising that the Government made mistakes is the first step – DEFRA needs to take rapid action to reduce disruption now or we risk long-term damage to perishable goods businesses like fishing.”