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Government Has Set Up A New Fishing Task Force To Deal With Post-Brexit Chaos

Boris Johnson visits Peterhead fish market, Scotland (PA).

3 min read

The government has announced that a new ministerial task force will attempt to help Scottish seafood businesses whose exports to the European Union have been pummelled by post-Brexit paperwork.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced that the government would give up to £23 million to seafood businesses whose sales to the EU have been frustrated by new customs and health checks. 

The paperwork has resulted in lengthy delays to fresh fish exports that used to reach customers on the continent just hours after being processed in Scotland. Some Scottish boats have resorted to landing in Denmark and having fish processed there in order to circumvent disruption in the UK.

In what is being regarded as a sign that the government believes extra funding alone will not rectify these problems, it has agreed with the Scottish government and fishing industry representatives to set up a new task force with the aim of alleviating issues at the border.

The Michael Gove-led Cabinet Office signed off the new task force on Wednesday after discussions within government about how to step up support for the seafood industry, which has been hit hard by the UK's exit from the single market and customs union on New Year's Eve.

There had been disagreement between the Cabinet Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about how to best support the industry, PoliticsHome understands.

Gove on Thursday morning told Good Morning Scotland: "Just last week I had meetings with Tavish Scott [Scottish Salmon Producers], Jimmy Buchan [Scottish Seafood Association], those at the frontline of providing us with seafood, and also with Fiona Hyslop [Scottish minister], and we agreed to set up a specific joint task force in order to make sure that we support the sector."

Johnson later told Sky News that the government was "setting up a task force to make sure we work with the Scottish fishing industry" in helping traders overcome post-Brexit disruption.

Industry figures who PoliticsHome spoke to on Thursday welcomed the news, but said that the best way for the UK government to resolve the issues facing seafood exporters would be to hold discussions with the EU about making the new arrangements easier for them to deal with.

One industry figure said they had detected a reluctance in government to reopen talks with Brussels just a few weeks after agreeing their free trade deal.

"Reopening dialogue with the EU is absolutely critical, or for some companies the process may just feel like rearranging chairs on the Titanic," they told PoliticsHome.

Another said the announcement was a move designed by the government partly "to take the heat off them publicly," amid warnings that some fishing businesses will collapse unless the barriers facing their sales to the EU are removed. 

Affected seafood exporters have reported having orders cancelled by European customers and expressed concern that those customers might not come back even if the UK industry's post-Brexit problems are resolved.

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