Businesses experiencing problems exporting to the EU “through no fault of their own” will receive compensation, the prime minister has said.
Boris Johnson said he “understands the frustrations” of businesses exporting to the continent who have run into issues since new post-Brexit UK-EU trading rules came into effect.
He was speaking after angry seafood hauliers stacked their lorries outside Downing Street in protest.
They have complained of being “tied in knots with paperwork” and about new checks, resulting in delays exporting fresh fish and seafood to the EU since the start of the year.
“I sympathise very much and understand their frustrations and things have been exacerbated by COVID and the demand hasn’t been what it was before the pandemic and that’s one of the problems we’re trying to deal with. That’s driven in large part by the pandemic,” the prime minister said.
“Where businesses, through no fault of their own, have faced difficulties exporting where there is a genuine willing buyer, there’s a £23m fund to help out.”
Despite their difficulties, Mr Johnson said there would be “great opportunities” for fishermen UK-wide to “to take advantage of the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom”.
He added: “In just five-and-a-half years’ time, we will have access to all the fish in all our waters.
“And just now, we have access to 25% more than we did just a month ago. That means there is scope for fishing communities across the UK to take advantage of the increase in quota.
“What we’re going to do is give people a helping hand and that’s why we’ve set up the £100m fund to help people with boats, to help with the fish processing industry, the opportunity is massive.”
Fourteen people had been given fines after Monday morning’s protest, the Metropolitan Police confirmed.
“The industry is being tied in knots with paperwork requirements which would be easy enough to navigate, given that companies have put in the time and training in order to have all the relevant procedures in place for 1st January 2021,” said a spokesperson for D R Collin & Son, a Berwickshire-based firm that took part in the London demonstration.
“However, all the training is going to waste as the technology is outdated and cannot cope with the demands being placed on it – which in turn is resulting in no produce being able to leave the UK.
“These are not ‘teething issues’ as reported by the government and the consequences of these problems will be catastrophic on the lives of fishermen, fishing towns and the shellfish industry as a whole.”
Alasdair Hughson, chairman of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, said the industry wanted to “make its voice heard loud and clear”.
“If this debacle does not improve very soon we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line,” he said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said ministers were “trying to blame the fishing communities rather than accepting it’s their failure to prepare”.
He said: “They 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.”
Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s rural economy secretary, said the new trading rules were having a “catastrophic impact on Scotland’s food and drink export industry” and any compensation may be “too little too late” for some businesses.
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