Under the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, the UK has secured tariff-free access for fisheries products and a substantial transfer of quota from the European Union, benefiting fishing communities across the UK, including Scotland. The transfer is equivalent to 25% of the value of the EU’s historic catch in UK waters, worth £146 million delivered over five years. All fisheries Administrations will have regulatory control, giving Scotland powers over the largest part of the UK’s exclusive economic zone.
At the beginning of the year, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and told Members that difficulties with the UK-EU fishing trade were just “teething problems”, but two months on those problems are still ongoing, and the Government’s compensation fund is clearly insufficient. On Tuesday, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee was told that in the medium term, we will see a lot more of the smaller companies stopping trade in Europe, and it may ultimately be their demise. That is terrible news for the East Neuk in North East Fife and their fishing fleet. Does the Secretary of State still agree with the words that he wrote in 2016, when he said:
“From the point of view of the fishing industry, the case for leaving the EU is overwhelming”?
Yes, I do still believe that, and we have a 25% uplift in quota as a result of the trade and co-operation agreement and regulatory freedom that we did not have before. It is worth noting that we are now seeing lorry loads of fish clearing border control posts in France typically in under an hour—sometimes a little longer, but it is an improving situation. Volumes of trade are back up to around 85% of normal volumes.
The Prime Minister said a week ago that he thought the fishing industry could be saved if we only ate more British fish. Two months ago, the Leader of the House said that the fish are “happier” because of Brexit. In January, the DEFRA Secretary said the collapse of exports was a “teething problem”. Can the flippancy end now, and can we get some serious answers for the industry? Some Scottish businesses still face three-day waits to get their fresh fish to EU markets. Does the Government not accept that they have got it wrong and that the taskforces and other sticking plasters are not enough? Will they get back to the negotiating table with the EU, eat some humble pie and accept whatever regulatory alignment and other measures are necessary to save the industry?
As I said, volumes of fish exports are currently running at about 85% of normal volumes. Given coronavirus and the lockdown in the EU, we think that is probably about the right level, given the stress to the markets in the European Union. It is an improving situation. Well over half of all consignments now clear border control posts within an hour, and typically in 45 minutes. Over 90% are clearing them within three hours, so we do not recognise the figure that the hon. Lady gives of three days.