Brexit: Fishing chief slams Michael Gove over deal ‘lies’
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink claimed the UK trade system was “failing” and predicted problems will worsen this week. He warned orders will be cancelled and EU customers will look elsewhere for their goods as he called for urgent action to fix the post-Brexit trade issues.
The trade industry boss claimed one-third of the Scottish fishing fleet was now tied up in a harbour with some boats sailing to Denmark instead of the UK to avoid “Brexit bureaucracy” introduced after a Brexit trade deal was secured.
In a series of tweets, Mr Withers said: “More messages from food exporters who are finding the door to the EU is now shut. Haulage firms won’t take their loads; bureaucratic/IT systems failing.
“A multi-billion pound trade system is being tested for the first time, in real-time. And it’s going wrong.
“Brexit, week one was bad. Week two will be worse. The UK Government’s dismissal of the request from us (and most main business organisations) for a grace period was a critical mistake.
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“By this time next week, pressure to revisit that will be even greater. Emergency financial aid may also be necessary.
“The crux of all this is sheer complexity and lack of preparation time. For a product that has 24 hours to get to market, small delays at different points are crippling.”
He said the “simplified” process for moving fish from Scotland to France involves 18 steps.
Mr Withers added: “For those that say businesses had years to prepare, a reminder that the final Border Operating Model (all 160+ pages) was published six hours before the end of the transition period. Yes, six hours.
“We wrote to the UK Government with 100 days to go warning that the UK could not be ready and asking for a grace period.
“With 60 days to go, we wrote to Boris Johnson making the same plea. There was no willingness to even ask the EU about it.
“Mistakes of 2020 are done. 2021 fixes now critical.
“The pain of Brexit this week will be much less visual than many expect.
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“It is unlikely to be the queues of lorries on motorways or on airport runways in Kent.
“It will be the pain of what is not happening: cancelled orders and EU customers starting to go elsewhere for their goods.”
His comments follow some fishing and seafood companies describing the new arrangements as a “shambles” as red tape led to delays.
It comes as SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide Scottish businesses with Brexit compensation.
Speaking in Prime Minister’s Questions, he said a producer and exporter of shellfish in his Skye constituency was experiencing his worst nightmare when his lorry of fresh, high quality produce travelling to France had faced red tape and delays meaning the produce could not be sold.
Mr Blackford, added: “The Prime Minister and the Scottish Tories promised a “sea of opportunity” with Brexit – where is it?
“The situation my constituent has found himself in is not a one-off. The reality is a third of the Scottish fishing fleet is “tied up in harbour.”
“Some boats are landing in Denmark rather than Scotland to avoid “Brexit bureaucracy” and Scottish seafood exporters are losing upwards of one million pounds in sales a day.
“My constituent has been in the industry for 35 years and tells me he’s “never seen anything like it.”
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove warned he expects more disruption at the UK border in the coming weeks.
Mr Gove said: “So far disruption at the border hasn’t been too profound but it is the case that in the weeks ahead we expect that there will be significant additional disruption, particularly on the Dover-Calais route.
“It is our responsibility in Government to make sure that business is as ready as possible, and hauliers and traders have already done a lot but we have to redouble our efforts to communicate the precise paperwork that is required in order to make sure that trade can flow freely.
“So over the course of the next few days, Government will be stepping up that communications effort to make sure that business knows what is required.”
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