FISH export firms which have lost out on sales as a result of Brexit chaos will be able to apply for a £23m compensation scheme, the Prime Minister has announced.
However Boris Johnson, speaking this afternoon, cast doubt on the severity of the problems faced by the industry by suggesting that “demand for UK fish” is not “what it was” due to the pandemic.
He made the comments hours after dozens of trucks from fishing exporters descended on Whitehall this morning in protest at the problems firms have faced since the end of the Brexit transition period.
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Mr Johnson suggested that companies which have lost “genuine buyers” “through no fault of their own” would be able to apply for compensation, with the UK Government setting aside a £23m fund for such claims.
He also described the issues, which have seen boats tied up and seafood go rotten before reaching its destination, as “teething problems” and suggested they were due to “people not filling in the right forms”.
Mr Johnson said: “There are problems at the moment caused by teething problems, people not filling in the right forms or misunderstandings.
“When it’s not people’s fault, of course we’re going to compensate and help out and funds have been put in place to do that.”
Asked what he would say to those firms which have lost money, the Prime Minister said: ” I sympathise very much, and I understand their frustrations and I understand their concerns.
“Obviously, 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 and that is one of the problems we’re all trying to deal with.
“Unfortunately this is driven in large part by the pandemic and we’ve put in place all sorts of measures to help businesses throughout the pandemic.
“What I’m also saying is that where businesses, through no fault of their own have experienced bureaucratic delays or difficulties getting their goods through, when there is a genuine a willing buyer on the other side of the Channel, and they’ve had a problem, then there’s a £23million compensation fund that we’ve set up and we’ll make sure that they get help.”
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Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland said the Prime Minister was blaming fishermen for the problems of Brexit.
He said: “Boris Johnson was told by Scottish fishermen last week that he knew that his claims about controlling all the fish in U.K. waters were not true. Despite that he is repeating them today.
“This will only fuel the growing anger of fishing communities where everyone now knows that the Prime Minister dropped the ball and broke just about every one of the promises he had made.
“I had hoped that after Brexit the Prime Minister would stop trying to blame other people for his failures. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“Boris Johnson used fishermen, betrayed their trust and now seeks to blame them for his failings.”
Scottish seafood firm D.R.Collin and Son was one of the firms taking part in today’s protest outside Westminster.
A statement from the company explained that the industry was “being tied in knots” with the administration required to export produce.
It explained: “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.
“Action needs to be taken urgently to allow the procedures to be realigned in a manner which reflects the time restraints faced in the export of live shellfish to Europe.
“We are trying to adapt our business together with our customers with a view to come into line with the new regulations however no one is listening to our industry.”