Johnson ‘understands frustrations’ of businesses struggling to export to EU

The Prime Minister said that any business experiencing difficulty exporting to the EU ‘through no fault of their own’ would be compensated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he “understands the frustrations” of businesses exporting to Europe after seafood hauliers protested against the Brexit fishing deal by stacking lorries in central London.

Mr Johnson confirmed on Monday that any business experiencing difficulty exporting to the EU “through no fault of their own” would be compensated.

Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by delays since the UK’s transition period ended on December 31.

The new checks and paperwork has been causing massive delays for the industry since the UK left the European Union, with seafood producers growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of Government action.

Seafood hauliers descended on roads near 10 Downing Street in response to the issues they have faced in exporting seafood to the EU, saying they were being “tied in knots with paperwork” by the Brexit fishing deal.

Seafood hauliers descended on Downing Street
Seafood hauliers descended on Downing Street (SCFF)

Speaking to the BBC, Boris Johnson said: “I sympathise very much and understand their frustrations and things have been exacerbated by Covid and the demand hasn’t been what it was before the pandemic and that’s one of the problems we’re trying to deal with. That’s driven in large part by the pandemic.

“Where businesses, through no fault of their own, have faced difficulties exporting where there is a genuine willing buyer, there’s a £23 million fund to help out.”

He added: “But be in no doubt, there are great opportunities for fishermen across the whole of the UK to take advantage of the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom.

“In just five-and-a-half years’ time, we will have access to all the fish in all our waters. And just now, we have access to 25% more than we did just a month ago. That means there is scope for fishing communities across the UK to take advantage of the increase in quota.

“What we’re going to do is give people a helping hand and that’s why we’ve set up the £100 million fund to help people with boats, to help with the fish processing industry, the opportunity is massive.”

Metropolitan Police confirmed that 14 people had been issued with fines after a protest on Monday morning.

A spokesperson from Eyemouth-based DR Collin & Son, who were taking part in the protest, said: “The industry is being tied in knots with paperwork requirements which would be easy enough to navigate, given that companies have put in the time and training in order to have all the relevant procedures in place for 1st January 2021.

“However, all the training is going to waste as the technology is outdated and cannot cope with the demands being placed on it – which in turn is resulting in no produce being able to leave the UK.

“These are not ‘teething issues’ as reported by the Government and the consequences of these problems will be catastrophic on the lives of fishermen, fishing towns and the shellfish industry as a whole.”

Alasdair Hughson, Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation chairman, said: “It is inevitable that the UK shellfish industry would want to make its voice heard loud and clear on this matter.

“After the year that all of these businesses have had, struggling to survive against the odds, now faced with this situation, to now find themselves being blamed for not completing forms correctly when they are all just trying to follow Government guidelines which are unclear and changing all of the time.

“If this debacle does not improve very soon we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of trying to blame fishing communities for the issues caused by Brexit.

Sir Keir said: “They are beyond frustrated, they are pretty angry about what’s gone on because the Government has known there would be a problem with fishing and particularly the sale of fish into the EU for years.

“It didn’t prepare for it and now it is doing the classic thing of the Government, which is trying to blame the fishing communities rather than accepting it’s their failure to prepare.”

Scotland’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said any compensation may be “too little too late” for some businesses.

He said: “As feared and predicted, the new trading relationship with the EU is having a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s food and drink export industry.

“It is very clear that the UK Government should have extended the transition period as we called for, due to the pandemic and lack of progress in the negotiations.”

He added: “It is unacceptable that the UK Government has not consulted with us on this funding package ahead of this announcement, as our view and that of the Scottish industry is that devolved administrations are clearly best placed to take decisions on spending in their areas.”

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