Government’s ‘poor handling of Brexit behind shellfish woes’

Elizabeth Arnold, Richard Wheeler, George Ryan and Lewis McKenzie, PA Political Staff

Ministers faced claims of making a “bollocks of Brexit” as the Government insisted it is urgently seeking to remove barriers placed on UK shellfish exports.

SNP environment food and rural affairs spokeswoman Deidre Brock hit out at Boris Johnson’s administration during Commons exchanges about restrictions placed on the export of some live shellfish to the EU.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told MPs it should be possible to export shellfish to purification centres in the EU so they can be made ready to eat, and that such trade should continue.

Coronavirus – Tue Nov 10, 2020
Environment Secretary George Eustice (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

But he claimed Brussels has “changed its position”, “made an error” in its interpretation of the law and the UK is seeking to resolve this matter urgently.

Mr Eustice also told MPs one of the options available to the UK is to support the industry by “procuring the declaration equipment so it can be done here, and we will be exploring that and other options” if needed.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Brock said the past five weeks have been an “absolute nightmare” for food exporting businesses and some are “facing bankruptcy”.

Ms Brock added: “Forty years of building good customer bases in Europe have been swept away in one month by this Government’s incompetence.

“The Government blames the companies for not getting the paperwork right, saying it was teething problems or blamed the French, the Dutch or any other big boy who might have done it and run away.

“Will the Government accept that the fault and the blame lie with them, that it’s because they made a bollocks of Brexit and will they go back to the EU to seek a grace period and new negotiations on market access, even if that means accepting some regulatory alignment?”

Mr Eustice replied: “We will not accept regulatory alignment. This country voted to become an independent self-governing country again, to make its own laws again.

“We were elected as a Government on a clear manifesto commitment to deliver what people voted for in the referendum and that is what we have done.

“Of course there have been teething problems in these early stages as people familiarise themselves with new paperwork.”

Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) noted: “I didn’t realise bollocks was parliamentary language.”

Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing replied: “(Ms Brock) uttered a phrase that although I would not have allowed it if she directed it specifically at any individual member of this House, I didn’t interrupt her in the way in which she used it in her question.”

Dame Eleanor reminded MPs to be “very careful never to use any language which could be considered offensive”.

Mr Eustice earlier said he has written to the EU Commission “seeking urgent resolution” to barriers placed on some UK shellfish exports.

Responding to an urgent question on shellfish exports, he said: “Bringing an end to this traditional and valuable trade is unacceptable and I recognise that this is a devastating blow to those businesses that are reliant on the trade.

“While we do not agree at all with the commission’s interpretation of the law, we have had to advise traders that their consignments may very well not be accepted at EU ports for now.”

In response to questions from Labour, Mr Eustice explained: “It is the case that in September 2019 the European Commission told us that in respect of wild-caught molluscs there would be a need for a new export health certificate and they indicated that that could not come on stream until April when that was discussed with them more recently.

“But they said that the existing trade in farmed molluscs could continue under existing export health certificates so they have indeed changed their position.

Conservative MP Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) said: “I know (Mr Eustice) has tried his best but the time has now come to show the EU that we will not surrender to their games over these shellfish exports.”

Mr Eustice said there is “no obligation” on the UK to continue its “pragmatic, sensible, phased approach” towards fishing arrangements with the EU.

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