BORIS Johnson has claimed British fishermen should prepare for an “El Dorado” despite many of them currently experiencing severe difficulties with red tape post-Brexit and a fall-off in demand because of the coronavirus.
During PMQs, he was challenged by Labour’s Ben Bradshaw about increased bureaucracy following Britain’s departure from the EU as the Exeter MP asked: “When the Prime Minister told fishermen in the South-West that they would not face new export barriers or unnecessary form-filling, and when he told Britain’s musicians and artists they would still be free to tour and work in the rest of the European Union after Brexit, neither of those statements were correct, were they Prime Minister?”
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The PM, who has referred to the problems the seafood industry has encountered with increased bureaucracy, replied: “It is absolutely true that some British fishermen have faced barriers at the present time owing to complications over form-filling and indeed one of the biggest problems is that, alas, there is a decline in appetite for fish in continental markets just because most of the restaurants, as he knows, are shut.”
He went on: “The reality is that Brexit will deliver and is delivering a huge uplift in quota, already the next five years, and by 2026 the fishing people of this country will have access to all the fish in all the territorial waters of this country.
“To get them ready for that El Dorado, we’re investing £100 million in improving our boats, our fish processing industry and getting fishing ready for the opportunities ahead.”
But SDLP MP Claire Hanna urged Mr Johnson to “be straight with the people of Northern Ireland” over Brexit.
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The Belfast South MP said: “Contrary to the view of every political party here and all of those involved in logistics and retail, [Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis] said last week that there’s no border in the Irish Sea and that disruption to supplies was a Covid issue and nothing to do with Brexit or the Protocol.
“The papers are reporting [the PM]plans to woo [US President Joe Biden’s] administration through the topic of Northern Ireland.
“As they and we try to move on from Trump and Trump-ism, would being straight with the people of Northern Ireland not be a good start?”
Mr Johnson responded by suggesting the proof of the pudding was in the eating, telling MPs: “Actually, there’s more transit now taking place between Larne and Stranraer and Cairnryan than there is between Holyhead and Dublin because it’s going so smoothly.”
Later, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, hit out at the PM’s El Dorado remark, saying: “Fishermen may reflect on the fact that ‘El Dorado’ was a myth that led to many wasted lives searching for treasure that never existed. A fitting metaphor, then, for this Prime Minister to use.
“This idea of it all being easy when we get to 2026 was already called out by no less than the Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation; he should stop repeating the mistake.
“Meaningful improvements for the industry in 2026 would require a political will that Boris Johnson has never, ever shown on behalf of fishing when it really mattered. Future promises of mythical wealth are worth nothing when the broken promises of the present are costing fishermen right now,” insisted the former Scottish Secretary.