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Fergus Ewing: Seafood industry needs more cash to cope with Brexit delays

A seafood lorry used in the protest in London.
A seafood lorry used in the protest in London.

Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing has said the seafood industry will need more compensation to cope with disruption to trade following EU withdrawal.

Mr Ewing suggested more cash would be needed on top of the £23 million announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week as an official document cast doubt on whether fresh produce could make it to EU markets on time post-Brexit.

The package was unveiled by the prime minister as Scottish seafood firms took their protest over Brexit border delays to the gates of Downing Street.

When issues with shellfish being “spoilt” as a result of delays and empty spaces at the Peterhead fish market were raised at Holyrood by SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan Coast Stewart Stevenson, Mr Ewing said there had been “no substantive discussion” with the UK Government about compensation.

The prime minister made an apparently off the cuff remark yesterday indicating that the package for the whole of the UK may be as little as £23 million.”

Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing

This week Boris Johnson announced the multimillion-pound package to compensate businesses for losses caused by Brexit red tape.

But Mr Ewing claimed it was “simply unacceptable” for the UK Government to launch the compensation scheme without consulting Scottish ministers.

Seafood industry
Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing wants greater compensation for seafood industry firms.

“To date, the UK Government hasn’t given the Scottish Government any details whatsoever of any package,” Mr Ewing said.

“The prime minister made an apparently off the cuff remark yesterday indicating that the package for the whole of the UK may be as little as £23 million.

“To put that in perspective, last year the Scottish Government delivered compensation to the Scottish sector alone for Covid compensation and support of £23.5m. But I do expect that the UK Government will need to start communicating with us on this matter and indeed I have called on them so to do.”

At Holyrood, Mr Ewing renewed his calls of a derogation period to be arranged with the EU to ease customs requirements.

Conservative Highland MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said the UK Government had “taken responsibility for their share of the problem the sector has faced” and had “stepped in” with the £23m package.

Seafood industry firms face ‘prospect of bankruptcy’

Meanwhile, a blog compiled by Holyrood’s independent research facility, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), warned Brexit would pose challenges for the export of fresh seafood, which requires to get to market quickly.

It’s not clear at this stage if or when the 24-hour timescale supply chains required to deliver fresh seafood from Scotland to EU markets can be achieved following the UK’s departure from the single market. The demand will continue, the worry for the industry is that supply will be sought from elsewhere.”

SPICe blog

The SPICe blog noted: “Before the new year, many seafood businesses were struggling to weather the storm of the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on export markets and port closures.

“Without further support from both the UK and Scottish Government and finding a solution to the new logistical challenges to exporting to the EU, some business state they face the prospect of bankruptcy within weeks.

Seafood industry

“It’s not clear at this stage if or when the 24-hour timescale supply chains required to deliver fresh seafood from Scotland to EU markets can be achieved following the UK’s departure from the single market. The demand will continue, the worry for the industry is that supply will be sought from elsewhere.”

The report also pointed out that the UK Government had provided £200m to Scottish ministers to prepare for Brexit.

Reacting to Mr Ewing’s comments, a UK Government source said: “This is about UK-wide issues and issues over the Channel. It’s entirely appropriate the UK Government deal with it.”

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