Nicola Sturgeon said that a freight protocol must be decided “without delay” between the UK government and France or face “devastating” consequences.
The First Minister said that freight problems coming into and leaving the United Kingdom would not lead to food shortages, but stressed that food exporters are “real and immediate concern” about the matter.
On Sunday night, following the discovery of a new, more transmissible strain of the coronavirus, the French government declared a ban on shipments through the English Channel.
But Nicola Sturgeon warned against panic purchasing, saying that as a result of the halt, it is unlikely there will be food shortages.
“Nonetheless, when thousands of truckers are stranded, Ms. Sturgeon spoke of the “significant repercussions” of closing the U.K.-France border, while urging Westminster to find an agreement to fix the problem.
‘Fatal blow’ over border closure may be sustained by Scottish seafood producers
At Holyrood, the Scottish First Minister said, “The situation is serious, urgent and deteriorating rapidly for our food exporters.”
“In order to get freight moving again, the UK government must reach an agreement with France immediately. There’s no time for you to waste.
Ms. Sturgeon clarified that “no concerns about drug shipments at this time.”
She also emphasized that there were “no immediate food supply concerns,” adding, “The supermarkets are well stocked.” There is also no need for someone to buy more than they had expected.
“If the situation isn’t resolved in the next few days or so, we could see a squeeze on some fresh produce after Christmas – but that’s not a concern at the moment and I hope it doesn’t come to that at all.”If the situation isn’t resolved in the next few days or so, after Christmas we could see a squeeze on some fresh produce – but at the moment that’s not a concern and I hope it doesn’t come to that at all.
Nicola Sturgeon said the “real and immediate concern” is the effect on food exporters, particularly those trying to sell Scottish seafood to Europe, of the border closure.
She explained, “This is the busiest time of year for seafood exports and the Christmas business is now almost definitely lost.
“This is devastating for our premium seafood businesses and they need our support.”
Ms. Sturgeon added that the Scottish government was “talking to the sector about the need for immediate financial support,” saying she had also discussed the question of compensation at the Cobra meeting on Monday.
French border closure: stranded truckers appeal for assistance
What the sector needs most, she stressed, is for the UK government and France to agree on a protocol to transfer freight again without delay.
“If that doesn’t happen immediately, the sector also faces the loss of New Year’s exports.”
The First Minister added that Scottish ministers “urge the UK government to give this matter top priority,”
Nicola Sturgeon also said that to deal with the crisis, the Scottish government was “ready to help in any way we can”
“She added: “As any solution is likely to require mass testing of freight drivers, this involves a willingness to provide testing facilities for our sector here in Scotland, if the terms of the agreement permit.
“I want to assure the sector, the Parliament and the public in general that I and my ministers will remain fully and actively engaged in this matter until it is resolved.”
In the meantime, James Withers, Scotland Food and Drink’s chief executive, said the situation had “deteriorated.”
“He said, “Contrary to yesterday’s optimistic assessment by the Prime Minister, the situation has deteriorated with an increasing backlog of lorries.
The number of lorries actually parking in the wrong location in the United Kingdom is now in the thousands, we realize.
There is a very small amount of seafood that has been caught in the backlog and, as an unaccompanied cargo, has managed to hit France.
The bulk of the problem, however, remains and is getting worse. Today, the UK government should hold another Cobra meeting and concentrate all energies on agreeing with the French authorities on a protocol.