UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice insists the interests of Scotland’s fishing industry are best served by Westminster fighting its corner within the European Union.
In an exclusive interview for the Press and Journal, he said Scotland benefited from the UK’s political clout in Brussels.
The Tory’s Better Together message is no surprise as the independence referendum looms.
However, his claim that Scottish fishers will fare best from the UK remaining part of the EU is at odds with some of the most Eurosceptic people in his party and also his former colleagues in the UK Independence Party (Ukip)
Mr Eustice stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for Ukip in the south-west of England during the 1999 European elections.
He said he had “always been a Eurosceptic” but had “adapted” his view on Britain’s EU membership since his four years’ campaigning against it.
The minister also played down concerns in Scotland that fishing is low down the list of priorities at Westminster.
Today’s Queen’s speech is unlikely to mention the industry, but Mr Eustice – parliamentary under secretary of state for farming, food and marine environment – said: “It is a large priority for me – more than half of my portfolio.”
The MP for Camborne and Redruth, since 2010, also highlighted his Cornish roots as further proof that he understood the industry and its concerns about the looming discards ban.
Speaking after a visit to Shetland to meet fishing leaders, he said: “I know there is apprehension and anxiety about how we will implement it.”
He added the new ban being phased in from the start of next year as part of “radical” reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy had some flexibility built in as a result of UK lobbying in Brussels.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said: “We had a very open and frank discussion on many of the biggest issues we face.
“The minister is very much aware of the importance of Shetland to UK fisheries and was prepared to engage in some detail rather than hide behind a political smokescreen.
“There are grounds for optimism on the discard ban, although we clearly have an awful long way to go.
“Mr Eustice has a commendable grasp of the issues and made it clear that he will roll his sleeves up and work with us.”
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Our fishing communities have suffered the most under the existing constitutional arrangements, so this is an industry with much to gain.
“Fishing is much more important to Scotland than the rest of the UK.
“We would never use our fisheries as a bargaining chip in wider negotiations as the UK Government currently does.
“A vote for independence will take us from the sidelines to centre-stage and from being silenced to being one of the most important and respected voices at Europe’s top table.”