Brexit: Fishing problems 'inevitable' but deal will be 'very beneficial', PM says

28 January 2021, 17:52 | Updated: 28 January 2021, 18:47

Boris Johnson holding a cod during an election campaign visit to Grimsby Fish Market in December 2019
Boris Johnson holding a cod during an election campaign visit to Grimsby Fish Market in December 2019. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has admitted initial problems for the fishing industry were "inevitable" but that his Brexit deal will be "very beneficial" for it in the medium-to-long term.

Speaking during his visit to Scotland on Thursday, the prime minister said he would be happy to meet with figures from the sector to "explain why I think we've done the right thing with Brexit".

It comes after MPs warned the government that the entire fishing industry could collapse if customs clearance technology at the border is not fixed.

Issues at ports have inhibited the fish and seafood trade since the transition period with the European Union drew to a close at the start of the year.

Europe's biggest fish market in Peterhead, Scotland, has been turned into a ghost town, according to industry officials, who said the problems have led to boats being "tied up" and exporters "crippled".

However, Mr Johnson sought to reassure the sector on Thursday, saying those affected by the changes will have access to a £23 million support fund.

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He 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."

The prime minister also said the new deal struck with Brussels will bring benefits to coastal communities, which the UK Government would help trawlermen 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.

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"As you've heard this morning, we're setting up a task force 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."

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation said its position had not changed - despite Mr Johnson's comments - since chief executive Elspeth Macdonald wrote to the UK leader on 15 January.

In her letter, she warned the industry found itself "in the worst of both worlds" since the Brexit agreement came into effect.

Ms Macdonald said: "Your deal leaves us with shares that not only fall very far short of zonal attachment, but in many cases fail to 'bridge the gap' compared to historic catches, and with no ability to leverage more fish from the EU, as they have full access to our waters.

"This, coupled with the chaos experienced since 1 January in getting fish to market means that many in our industry now fear for their future, rather than look forward to it with optimism and ambition."

The Scottish National Party has accused the prime minister of being untruthful with the catching sector.

Karen Adam, the party's candidate for Banffshire & Buchan Coast constituency at the May Holyrood election, said: "Boris Johnson has been caught hook, line and sinker repeating total lies to Scotland's fishermen.

"Anywhere this Tory prime minister goes, he leaves behind him a trail of lies, bluster and broken promises. He must set the record straight and apologise to the industry for repeating this false narrative."