Boris Johnson has insisted his Brexit deal will be “very beneficial” in the medium to long term for fishermen – but admitted that initial problems were “inevitable”.
MPs have warned the Government that the entire fishing industry could be destroyed if ministers do not fix customs clearance technology at the border which has hampered fish and seafood trade since Britain started operating on fresh terms with the European Union at the start of the year.
Industry officials said Peterhead in Scotland, Europe’s biggest fish market, has been turned into a ghost town by Brexit due to boats being “tied up” and exporters “crippled”.
Last week one of Devon’s largest fish exporters has admitted he “made a mistake” by voting for Brexit, revealing that he has been unable to send consignments to Europe since Boris Johnson’s deal with Brussels came into force.
“It’s just been an absolute nightmare,” Brixham-based fish merchant Ian Perkes told BylineTV. “If I could turn the clock back, would I have voted Leave? Of course not. I’d have wanted to stay in, for the future of my family.”
Perkes said he was struggling to be optimistic about the future of Britain’s fishing industry – despite promises that things will get better.
“The reality is, it’s now 20 January and we haven’t yet sent a consignment to Europe from Brixham,” he said. “Forty-four years I’ve been selling fish, and overnight it’s pretty much been destroyed. I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel as we speak.”
He said: “I think I was taken along on the ride that we all were on with the bus going around, we were going to save £350 million per week that we were throwing to Brussels, we were going to have this free trade and Europe were going to be desperate for our fish because we’d have control of it all and we’d be in control of our own destiny.
“I’m coming to the end of my career, but I think me and many others have perhaps made a mistake. I just thought there’d be a better future for myself and for my children, and my children’s children, to become independent and have our own fishing grounds.”
Speaking on Thursday, Johnson told broadcasters: “Of course, there are teething problems in lots of areas – that’s inevitable because there is a big change.
“We told people there was a big change coming and where people have had problems through no fault of their own, there is a £23 million fund to help them through it.”
But the Conservative Party leader said the new relationship he had negotiated with Brussels would bring benefits to coastal communities that the UK Government would help trawlermen to exploit.
“Be in no doubt that over the medium term, and much more over the long term, the changes are very beneficial for Scottish fishing – a big increase in North Sea cod, in North Sea haddock, in just the next few years, a 25% increase in overall quota in just the next few years,” he added.
“Then, moving to a world in which we really are able as a country to fish the entire stocks in the whole of Britain’s territorial waters and we’re going to help Scottish fishing communities get ready for that moment, progressively improve their ability to take advantage of the position with a £100 million investment in fishing and helping improve their equipment, and so on.
“As you’ve heard this morning, we’re setting up a taskforce to make sure we work with Scottish fishing industry to make sure they are in a position to take advantage of this increase in stocks.”