UK Government u-turns over compensation pledge for fishing firms

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THE UK Government has u-turned on the Prime Minister’s pledge to compensate fishing firms caught up in Brexit ‘red tape’.

An urgent debate on the issue was held this morning in the House of Commons, led by the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael.

George Eustice, environment, food and rural affairs minister, told MPs that the government was looking at support for firms which had suffered problems with exports “through no fault of their own”.

However he said that the Prime Minister had announced “just before Christmas that we would invest £100 million in the UK fishing industry”.

Yesterday Boris Johnson told MPs that businesses “will be compensated”. 

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When asked repeatedly by other MPs throughout the debate about details of this compensation scheme, Mr Eustice dodged the question.

SNP MP Dierdre Brock asked directly how firms could access it, and even suggested that she could give businesses Mr Eustice’s mobile phone number for more information.

Downing Street last night said the government was considering feedback from the sector alongside data reflecting industry performance, and was continuing to review the need for more targeted actions, but did not guarantee firms would be compensated. 

Mr Eustice described the problems firms were having as “teething issues” and said that exports have been held up due to problems including the colour of ink used to fill out forms, as well as the number of pages of paperwork being presented to EU customs officials.

He said: “I am aware that there have been some teething issues as businesses get used to these new processes.

“Authorities in the EU countries are also adjusting to new procedures, and we are working closely with both industry, and authorities in the EU to iron out these issues, and to ensure that goods flow smoothly to markets.”

Liberal Democrat MPs Mr Carmichael and Jamie Stone urged the minister to agree to a round table discussion with other politicians and industry members, however Mr Eustice said the government was already talking to industry about their experiences.

It comes after junior Scotland office Minister David Duguid was asked on BBC Good Morning Scotland today about how long it would take to resolve the export issues, to which he replied “how long is a piece of string”.

Fishermen across Scotland have told of how they have not been able to export their produce on time, with tonnes of fish and seafood going to waste. One fisherman has threatened to dump tonnes of rotting fish at the front of Downing Street next week fi the problems are not resolved.

ENOUGH is ENOUGH WE CANT GET OUR PRODUCT into the EU MARKET WE are facing BANKRUPTCY get it sorted @Ianblackford_MP @FergusEwingMSP @Feorlean @michaelgove @scotfoodjames @BorisJohnson @ScotGovFM @BBCJamesCook @itvnews @BBCNews @scotgov @ScotTories pic.twitter.com/MtRpEMx44N
— Lochfyne langoustines Ltd & Lochfyne seafarms Ltd (@LochfyneLangous) January 13, 2021

Mr Duguid’s remarks have caused outrage among MPs, with SNP MP Drew Hendry asking Mr Eustice directly about the comments.

He said: “We already know that if the period of disruption that we’re witnessing is extended then European consumers will seek alternative suppliers and will be unlikely to return to Scottish suppliers.

“When asked how long it would take to solve the problems his ministerial colleague said on the radio this morning ‘How long is a piece of string?’

“Does he think that’s an acceptable answer for an industry facing what they described as a catastrophe?

Mr Eustice replied: “We’re working very hard to make sure that piece of string is as short as possible, having regular meetings with industry to try and diagnose this problem.”

The debate comes after fisheries minister Victoria Prentis yesterday told a Lords committee that she had not immediately read the Brexit deal as she was busy organising her local nativity trail. She also suggested that one solution to the export problems is that Brits eat more fish.

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The SNP called for her resignation last night, however Downing Street has defended the minister and DUP MP Ian Paisley said she had been subject to a “character assassination”.

Following the debate this morning, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said: “The Prime Minister and Victoria Prentis set the bar yesterday pretty low but George Eustice brought it clattering down today with a performance of breath-taking complacency.

“Repeating the Prime Minister’s blithe assertion that all the disruption for fishermen is just “teething problems” suggests a total lack of engagement with the real issues which are growing day by day. It is frankly insulting to the industry that he is already backtracking on the PM’s offer of compensation yesterday.

“Continuing to boast about increased quota shares when fishermen know that much of this is “paper fish” that we will never catch adds insult to injury.

“Of course it is important that we have tariff free access but that only matters when you get your fish into someone else’s market. 

“At the moment Scottish Fishermen cannot get their product past Larkhall. George Eustice entirely ignored my offer to set up a meeting with those affected – he needs to recognise that whatever he thinks he is doing it is not good enough.”

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