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Brexit: PM confirms £23m fund for seafood exporters after protest

Seafood delays
A lorry from Sutherland Game and Shellfish passes in front of the Houses of Parliament,

Boris Johnson has announced a £23 million compensation scheme for the fishing industry, after Scottish seafood firms took their protest over Brexit border delays to the gates of Downing Street.

Dozens of lorries from all over the UK – some branded with messages for Prime Minister Boris Johnson – descended on the capital on Monday morning to make their anger known.

Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by new customs checks since the Brexit transition period ended this month.

Industry insiders have estimated the delays are costing the sector more than £1 million a day.

Seafood delays
Scottish seafood lorries parked in Parliament Square.

‘Wake up to the disaster’

Jamie Dick, export manager at Sutherland Game and Shellfish Ltd, sent one of his drivers from the Highlands to London in the hope that politicians would “wake up to the disaster” unfolding.

Mr Dick said he is still calculating the total cost of the delays to his firm, but said: “Roughly speaking, we have two lorries going, with £40,000 in each of them, so that’s £80,000 a week.

“We sent one truck to test the water, we loaded it a day early with live shellfish, it took about 18 hours to go through all the paperwork, health certificates, catch certificates, customs documents – it’s about 40 sheets of paper per customer.

“If any one piece of information is wrong it could be turned away at French customs.”

He added: “I’ve done shipments to Hong Kong, that’s a couple of pages to export. It’s now easier to ship to China than it is to Europe.”

‘Clans coming together’

A statement by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) and also signed by the boss of Scottish exporter DR Collin & Son, of Eyemouth, said: “Every community around the coastline of Scotland should be encouraged to applaud the actions of this vital demonstration from within the seafood supply chain that supplies Europe with the finest seafood in the world.

“It is heartening to witness the clans of Scotland coming together.”

SCFF chairman Alasdair Hughson, managing director of Keltic Seafare, of Dingwall, added: “It is inevitable that the UK shellfish industry would want to make its voice heard loud and clear on this matter.

“After the year that all of these businesses have had, struggling to survive against the odds and now faced with this situation, to now find themselves being blamed for not completing forms correctly when they are all just trying to follow government guidelines which are unclear and changing all of the time.

“Hearing a wealthy and privileged Tory minister making frivolous comments in the parliament in some ridiculous attempt at playground humour is the last straw for many, we think.

“If this debacle does not improve very soon, we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line.”

‘Seafood exporters are beyond frustrated’

The governments in Edinburgh and London are blaming each other for a log-jam of seafood lorries – due to red tape – at export distribution facilities in central Scotland.

IT problems on both sides of the Channel have also delayed Scottish exports to key markets in Europe.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the UK Government of ducking responsibility over the delays, saying: “Seafood exporters are beyond frustrated, they are pretty angry about what’s gone on because the government has known there would be a problem with fishing and particularly the sale of fish into the EU for years.

“It didn’t prepare for it and now it is doing the classic thing of the government, which is trying to blame the fishing communities rather than accepting it’s their failure to prepare.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

PM pledges to help

In response, the prime minister has said firms will be able to bid for a share of a £23 million compensation fund.

In a TV interview on Monday, Mr Johnson said: “Where businesses, through no fault of their own, have experienced bureaucratic delays or difficulties getting their goods through and where there is a genuine willing buyer on the other side of the Channel, and they’ve had a problem, then there’s a £23 million compensation fund that we set up and we’ll make sure that they get help.”

Asked for further the details about the scheme, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “We are working extremely closely to look at how we can resolve temporary issues the seafood sector face.

“We will look to help and compensate them for some of the issues they have faced since the end of transition period.”

He added: “We will set out more details shortly – there were conversations over the weekend and we will set out more details shortly.”

Communities could be ‘destroyed’

The SNP’s fisheries spokeswoman, Deidre Brock MP, said the situation is now “beyond urgent” and called on ministers to roll out a compensation scheme.

She said: “Communities across Scotland will be destroyed if action isn’t taken soon to sort this.

“People’s jobs are at stake, long-established businesses could collapse, and the communities where fishing and seafood industries are important employers might just not be viable any longer.”

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, who secured an urgent Commons statement on border delays last week, said: “Talk of ‘teething problems’ looks more and more ludicrous with every hour that passes.

Fishermen feel betrayed by those who used and abused their support – they deserve better.

“The government has a duty to make good the harms caused by their complacency and incompetence.”