Fishermen must be compensated for seafood export delays, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said, as George Eustice told MPs the issue was down to “teething problems”.
Douglas Ross said financial compensation is “clearly needed by our fishermen right across the country” as the environment secretary promised the Government is “working hard to address these problems” surrounding the export of Scottish seafood to the EU.
His comments came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs that fishing businesses would be compensated for what he described as “temporary frustrations” on Wednesday.
During an urgent question on the matter in the Commons on Thursday, MPs from all parties voiced their concerns about exports of Scottish seafood from smaller companies being halted for a further five days by transport company DFDS.
DFDS stopped exports last week after delays in getting new paperwork introduced following the expiry of the Brexit transition period for EU border posts in France.
Paperwork has to be approved before consignments can be sent to DFDS’s warehouse in South Lanarkshire and then on to English Channel ports
Mr Ross shared the story of a local skipper whose catch is currently worth “half of what he needs to cover his costs”, adding: “So can the secretary of state outline the discussions that he’s having with the Scottish Government regarding the problems at Larkhall and with the compensation scheme that is clearly needed by our fishermen right across the country?”
Mr Eustice replied: “I am having a discussion with DFDS (a Danish shipping and logistics company) later today to see if we can offer help.
“They are working through quite a difficult situation, working hard to address these problems, as are Food Standards Scotland.”
Mr Carmichael, who tabled the urgent question, said: “For years this Government has promised our fishing industry a sea of opportunity, but today our boats are tied up in harbour, their propellers filled with red tape manufactured in Whitehall.”
Mr Carmichael added: “Yesterday, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that compensation had been considered for our fishing industry.
“Who is going to be compensated, for what and by how much?”
He also noted that Victoria Prentis “apparently didn’t think it was worth reading the agreement as soon as it was made, even though every second counted”, following the fisheries minister’s comment to the Lords Environment Committee that she was “very busy on Christmas Eve” when the agreement came through, “organising the local nativity trail”.
Responding to Mr Carmichael, Mr Eustice told MPs: “Yesterday we had a meeting with the Dutch officials, earlier this week we had a meeting with the French, on Friday we had a meeting with the Irish to try to iron out some of these teething problems.
“They are only teething problems, once people get used to using the paperwork goods will flow normally.”
The Environment Secretary also denied that Fisheries Minister Ms Prentis had not read the agreement, adding: “I think the record will show that she did not say she didn’t have time to read the agreement, what she actually said is that her jaw did not drop when she was told what was in the agreement.
“Now there may be a reason for that, which is that she knew what was likely to be in the agreement for at least a week, since I’d been discussing it with her and we were both in regular contact with our negotiators.”
On compensation, he added: “We will look closely at this issue, but in the meantime, we’re going to work very closely with the industry to make sure we can iron out these difficulties.”
The DUP’s Ian Paisley (North Antrim) later spoke in defence of Ms Prentis, saying she has been subject to “a character assassination” over her comments and that she had taken a call from him on the issue of fishing on Christmas Eve.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) urged Mr Eustice to “rethink” his suggestion that Scottish export delays are simply down to “teething problems”.
Mr Esterson said: “The shortage of vets to inspect fish, the lack of customs agents to process border forms and there not being enough time for businesses to adapt to new rules of origin are, I would suggest, a lot more than teething problems.
“The Secretary of State might want to rethink his analysis there.”