Once cheering on Boris, Scottish fishermen are now condemning the Prime Minister
On UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s last in-flight visit to Scotland’s largest fish market, he managed to bid £ 185 at auction for an expensive tin of cod – while also promising a long-term Brexit deal yet best for the country’s fishermen.
“It’s a sea of opportunity here,” said the Prime Minister, who made an offer for the case at Peterhead Fish Market on the advice of local fish trader Will Clark. Two years later Mr Clark, a Brexiteer who applauded alongside others for Mr Johnson, now says he was betrayed.
“We were sold a lie by Westminster,” he said during an auction halt in the market, one of the largest in Europe, but operating at less than a quarter of capacity when The National visited.
Mr Clark said during Mr Johnson’s visit in 2019 he gave the Prime Minister his wishlist for a successful Scottish fishing industry based on a new relationship with Europe. He said the prime minister delivered nothing.
“They came here and fed on the aspirations of the people,” said Mr. Clark, owner of Wilsea Ltd, a seafood wholesaler. “They are charlatans who told blatant lies. I was pro-Brexit. I was one of those who was deceived.
Peterhead, the UK’s largest fishing port, is built in part with EU money. The sea wall outside the fish market has a plaque welcoming the financial assistance received from the European Fisheries Fund and the Scottish Government.
But opinion polls in the run-up to the vote showed that fishermen landing at the port were among the strongest supporters of Brexit. They believed the 2016 vote would allow national trawlers to take more fish from UK waters and restrict access to the EU fishing fleet.
The quotas were set until 2026 by a free trade agreement reached in December 2020 after years of increasingly tense talks. But the industry has accused the UK government of failing to make any significant changes to the quota system, despite a slogan during the Brexit campaign to “take back control”.
Industry contributes just 0.02 percent of UK gross value added, a similar measure to GDP. The absence of an EU fisheries policy has been touted as one of the most valuable benefits of leaving the economic bloc.
The fate of the industry is now considered an indicator in the analysis of the success of Brexit.
Britain’s position as an island nation, its history of clashes with mainland European fishermen and a series of North Atlantic “cod wars” with Iceland that ended in a Defeats for the UK in the 1970s increased the public and strategic importance of the industry.
Mr Johnson’s government has claimed Brexit will benefit the industry by more than £ 148million by 2026 – but the analysis of a former chief UK negotiator during the deal EU fishing agreement with Norway suggests the sector will be worse off by £ 300million over the same period. period.
Fishing companies trying to export to the EU have been strangled by new administrative costs, customs and health checks, prompting the government to pledge an additional £ 23million in January to help resolve the “teething problems” that have been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The assessment shows that there are very few winners and a large number of losers,” said Barry Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, which commissioned the study.
Small changes in the trade balance since the deal was signed have prompted retaliatory warnings from EU states. France protested against the UK’s refusal to issue licenses for a small number of the 1,700 EU vessels authorized to operate in its waters.
Under the international law of the sea, the UK has the right to exploit its own resources and to control entry into its waters. But the EU, backed by the economic weight of its 27 member states, could strike back with other trade measures if the UK tries to limit access to the EU fleet when it comes to renegotiating quotas from 2026, Deas said.
Ultimately, the 2020 trade deal “came down to the politics of the great powers with fishing rights entangled in the larger political balance,” Deas said.
“Now that we have left the EU, we have regained control of our waters,” said a British government official. “We have larger shares of fishing quota and the total value of UK-EU fishing opportunities for the UK in 2021 is around £ 333million, an increase of 27 million pounds from last year. “
The decision to leave the EU was most keenly felt in Scotland, where over 60% of the UK’s economic output is generated by fishing, but where the majority of the population voted to stay in the bloc.
Britain, a net importer of fish, exports the vast majority of its catch to the EU, where reduced holidaymakers and the closure of restaurants due to the Covid-19 pandemic have seen demand drastically reduced. ‘last year. This has compounded the long-term decline of an industry that supported 20,000 fishermen in the mid-1990s to 12,000 in 2019, according to figures from the British Parliament.
There have been winners under the 2020 deal. The pelagic fleet – which trawls species like mackerel and sardines – has benefited the most from the deal, according to the NFFO analysis.
The decline of the British pound after Brexit made their exports more profitable. “Turned millionaires into billionaires,” Mr. Clark said.
Mr Clark, who buys and trades in the UK market, says he was hardly affected by the additional red tape. But the Scotland Food & Drink association said earlier this year that exporters could lose more than £ 1million in sales a day.
Ian Napier, a market buyer from fishmonger Ken Cassells, said there was “a massive hitch when Brexit took place” because of the extra paperwork.
The speed and lack of detail before the deal was reached in December 2020 meant the industry was unprepared for the changes.
“It was pretty scary for most people, but it seems to have calmed down,” Napier said.
Stephen White, the skipper of the trawler Star of the day, said he had experienced greater disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic than Brexit.
Its crew includes Filipino sailors, and travel restrictions have made it more difficult for them to book return flights, disrupting crew lists for travel. The boat specializes in catching shrimp, a business that has been hit hard by the closure of restaurants in Spain and Italy, he said.
But he didn’t believe British politicians could offer a better deal for the fleet in the future. He said he did not vote in the Brexit referendum because it was “just a waste of time; they are just lying ”.
“They promised the world,” he said. “Lots of promises – up to 10 minutes before the deal is done – and then a kick in the teeth.”
Updated: October 2, 2021 4:00 a.m.