The entire fishing industry could be destroyed if ministers do not fix customs clearance technology at the border, George Eustice has been warned.
SNP MP Stuart C McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) told the Environment Secretary that Scottish seafood companies were concerned they were “going out of business” with their produce “sitting in lorry parks in Kent waiting for customs clearance”.
His comments came as other MPs queried whether the meat industry was also “in jeopardy” after newspapers reported this week that pigs heads were “rotting in Rotterdam”.
But Mr Eustice assured MPs that while there were “occasionally delays at the border”, in general, “goods are flowing”.
Speaking in the Commons during environment departmental questions, Mr McDonald said: “Scotland’s high-quality seafood producers are warning that they’re going out of business.
“They can’t have their products sitting in lorry parks in Kent waiting for customs clearance, those products have to reach market fresh.
“So what is the Government doing to change the procedures and fix the technology to ensure an entire industry isn’t destroyed, and will there be ongoing compensation offered to business until this is sorted, or was that a one-off?”
Mr Eustice responded: “We have announced a £23 million fund to help those exporters who struggled with the paperwork in these initial weeks.
“We’ve also been working daily with the fishing sector to tackle and iron out any particular issues that they’ve encountered.”
He added that the problems were simply “teething issues”.
Meanwhile, shadow environment minister Daniel Zeichner told the Commons: “I fear the Secretary of State is living in a parallel universe.
“He must have seen the headlines ‘pig heads rotting in Rotterdam’ as Brexit delays hit the British meat industry,” and asked if the meat industry was “in jeopardy”.
Mr Eustice said: “He is wrong about that actually. Goods are flowing, particularly when it comes to lamb, which is our principal meat export. Dairy goods are also flowing.
“Yes, there are occasionally delays at the border as border officials in France and The Netherlands get used to these new processes, but we are intervening in all such instances to help the businesses concerned.”
The Environment Secretary also told MPs that an agreement between the UK and Norway over access to each other’s fishing waters during the next year could “conclude within the next couple of weeks”.
Mr Eustice said that last week an interim agreement was reached between the two countries to allow British fishers to catch a quota of 2,750 tonnes of cod in waters around Svalbard, Norway, up to March 31.
Responding to Labour MP Emma Hardy (Hull West and Hessle), he told MPs: “We would anticipate that these negotiations would conclude within the next couple of weeks and then access for Arctic cod, should that be agreed in the agreement, could be resumed.”
First thing this morning, I asked the Conservative Government why hasn't the fishing quota been agreed upon? The Kirkella is moored up, waiting to go to work.
Is the Government dragging its feet or is it being incompetent once again?? pic.twitter.com/Va1oHHBN6v
— Emma Hardy MP (@EmmaHardyMP) January 21, 2021
MPs were also informed that the UK Government was conducting bilateral negotiations with Ireland over easing pet travel restrictions between Great Britain and the island of Ireland.
Since January 1, the UK has “part two listed status” under the EU Pet Travel Scheme, meaning that people travelling from Great Britain with their pets and assistance dogs need to follow new requirements in order to travel to the EU and Northern Ireland.
SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Belfast South) said the current situation caused “challenges” for pet owners, particularly in relation to guide dogs.
Mr Eustice replied: “The primary purpose of these pet travel regulations is to control the spread of rabies and both Ireland and Great Britain have a very similar and very high health status on rabies having not had it in dogs previously.
“We, therefore, do think that there should be easements on this particular provision, we have argued with the (European) Commission that we should be listed in part one but we are continuing to make those bilateral negotiations with Ireland a priority.”