Brexit: George Eustice questions change in EU regulations
Jeremy Percy, chairman of the New Under Tens Fishing Association (NUFTA), accused Environment Secretary George Eustice of adopting a “dog ate my homework” approach by changing his stance from one of blaming the bloc to an acknowledgement that the difficulties were the result of an oversight by British negotiators. The Government confirmed yesterday that the UK will make financial support available from a £23million package announced last month to more businesses in the fishing and shellfish industry.
Shellfish exporters, in particular, are suffering because EU rules currently prohibit the sale of unprocessed shellfish to the continent.
Mr Percy told Express.co.uk: ”Johnson announced the £23million fund as a knee jerk reaction to the convoy of shellfish trucks that arrived in Westminster highlighting the massive difficulties and losses as a direct result of the post EU exit impacts on shellfish exports.
“As ever, the ‘promise’ of funds was detail free and we immediately highlighted to the Marine Management Organisation [MMO] et al that the fund also needed to cover catchers who had either lost money directly as their consignments didn’t get through or had stopped fishing as a direct result of the difficulties and inherent risks re exports.”
Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary George Eustice
Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
Consequently, it had taken the MMO several weeks to “put some flesh on the bones”, Mr Percy explained.
He added: “We and others highlighted the inequity of the system and it is only now that the fund has been widened although the proof of the pudding as ever will be in the eating.”
Mr Percy also suggested the Government had been disingenuous in attempting to blame Brussels.
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Boris Johnson on board a fishing trawler in Aberdeenshire in 2019
Tthe whole issue of the export of live bivalves came to the fore and was “immediately complicated” by statements from Mr Eustice which “flip-flopped” between “it’s all the fault of that nasty EU” and suggestions the restrictions were illegal, Mr Percy said.
He added: “As it turned out, not only was the EU doing no more than merely sticking to the very same rules that we were a signatory to but Eustice and co moved from their original claims ‘the dog ate my homework’ to coming relatively clean as soon as the statement he made to the industry body the Shellfish Association of GB, that admitted that it was our fault for not spotting the threat, became public knowledge.”
Mr Percy stressed the improvements to the £23million fund were welcome assuming it “does what it says on the tin”.
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European fisheries mapped
Shellfish cannot be imported into the EU without being processed
However, he added: “The live bivalve business covers everyone from the heritage sail-powered dredgers to multi-million-pound businesses that in the event that there is no resolution of the situation will go bust very quickly and will lose certainly far more than £23million as well as countless jobs, mortgage payments but as importantly the massive commitment of many people who have spent years building up their business, and put in not just money but blood sweat and tears.”
In general, shellfish such as oysters, mussels, clams, cockles and scallops are not suitable for human consumption in their pure state, and require purification in the EU before they can be distributed to supermarkets, restaurants and bars.
The UK Government had told exporters the ban would end on April 21, when Brussels brought in new animal health legislation – but an EU Commission official has now confirmed this was not the case.
European countries most dependent on British waters
An email sent on January 19, warned it was “strictly forbidden for bivalve molluscs originating from third countries, such as UK” which were not fit for human consumption to enter the EU at any point, adding “molluscs accompanied by an aquaculture certificate, wild or from aquaculture, cannot in any case reach a depuration centre in the EU”.
Earlier this month, Mr Eustice wrote to the European Commission’s Stella Kyriakides expressing his frustration and accusing the EU of changing its position, while seeking “urgent resolution”.
However, a Shellfish Association of Great Britain email to members seen by the PoliticsHome website said: “We have now received another update from DEFRA regarding the export of live-bivalve molluscs.
Fishing was a central issue in the Brexit debate
“All along they have told us that they believe the trade in class B animals is legal and that the regulation supports this. They have now changed this position.
“They now say that they believe on balance that the EU view, that the trade is not legal, is in fact correct. This is in complete contrast to everything they have told us so far.”
Speaking yesterday, Mr Eustice said: “Our fishermen are at the heart of many of our coastal communities and we recognise the impact of coronavirus and the end of the transition period on them.
“This expansion of our 23-million-pound support package will ensure many more businesses can benefit from government support.”