A new group set up by the UK Government in a bid to resolve the export “issues” Scotland’s fishing and seafood sectors have faced in the wake of Brexit will meet for the first time this week. It comes as the volume of exports going through UK ports have reduced dramatically.
Scotland Office minister David Duguid said the taskforce would aim to “work collaboratively across UK and Scottish governments”.
It is due to meet fortnightly, with the first talks coming after industry leaders accused the UK Government of being “in denial” about the scale of the problem fishermen face exporting their catch to the European Union.
The volume of exports going through British ports to the EU fell by 68 per cent last month compared with January 2020. The problems have been linked to Brexit, reports the Observer.
The huge reduction in activity has now been reported to Michael Gove by the Road Haulage Association.
Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the RHA, said the survey had also discovered 65 to 75 per cent of vehicles arriving from the EU were returning to the bloc empty due to a lack of goods, hold-ups in the UK and because British companies had halted exports to mainland Europe.
He said he found it ‘deeply frustrating and annoying that ministers have chosen not to listen to the industry and experts’, who have consistently called for greater urgency from the Government.
He told The Observer that Mr Gove had not responded in writing ‘pretty much every time we have written over the last six months’.
He said: ‘He tends to get officials to start working on things. But the responses are a complete waste of time because they don’t listen to what the issues were that we raised in the first place.’
A government spokesperson said: “We have had intensive engagement with the road haulage industry for many months and are still facilitating a daily call with representative groups.
“We do not recognise the figure provided on exports. Thanks to the hard work of hauliers and traders to prepare for change, disruption at the border has so far been minimal and freight movements are now close to normal levels, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We will continue to work constructively with the RHA as we adjust to our new relationship with the EU and seize the opportunities of Brexit.”
Some port workers return to Brexit inspection duties
Some officials withdrawn from Brexit inspections at Larne Port amid safety concerns are returning to work.
Mid and East Antrim Council has said its staff would return to work at Irish Sea trade check facilities on Friday evening following the completion of a threat assessment by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its own subsequent risk assessment.
“The health and safety of our staff remains our top priority,” said a council spokesman.
Inspectors employed by Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs were also withdrawn from duties on Monday evening. That move impacted both Larne and Belfast.
The department had not yet made a decision on their return on Friday evening.
A spokeswoman said: “The department has received the findings of the formal threat assessment from the PSNI and is currently considering it alongside its own internal risk assessment.
“Any decision to recommence full checks will be informed by both documents.”
EU officials overseeing the implementation of the new checks were also withdrawn from duties on Monday.
Inspections on animal-based produce arriving from Great Britain, which are required under the contentious Northern Ireland protocol, were suspended at Belfast and Larne ports after menacing graffiti appeared.
Police blamed the graffiti and menacing online comments on disgruntled individuals and small groups and have made clear there is no evidence of wider paramilitary involvement in threats.