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Fishing still 'red line issue', vows Gove during Buckie visit

By Alan Beresford

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THE fishing industry remains a Brexit red line issue for the UK government, representatives from the sector have been assured at a special round table meeting in Buckie.

Chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove MP, who was accompanied by the Under Secretary of State for Scotland David Duguid – who is MP for Banff and Buchan – and Moray MP Douglas Ross, the socially distanced meeting brought together leaders from both the fishing and fish processing sectors as well as the shipbuilding industry.

The Scottish Government was represented by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing MSP.

Held at Bijou by the Sea, the event was a follow up to a similar round table held by Mr Gove in February, also in Buckie.

Speaking to the Advertiser after the meeting, Mr Gove said he was happy with the reception from industry leaders and went on to underline the many benefits he is convinced lie ahead.

"There is a huge sea of opportunity for both the catching and processing sectors when we leave the EU," he said.

"Today the industry was understandably keen to get an update on the [Brexit] negotiations and I was able to reassure them that the Prime Minister has been very clear that the government will uphold its red lines on fishing and regaining control of access to our waters.

"There is a massive growth opportunity for Buckie, Banff and the whole of the north-east.

"Progress is being made and I'm optimistic we'll see a deal done. Even if no deal is done with the EU we'll have control of our Exclusive Economic Zone and that in itself is a big opportunity. There is choppy water ahead, make no mistake about that but the Prime Minister's determination to get a deal for fishing hasn't wavered.

"The north-east is lucky to have highly effective advocates such as Douglas [Ross] and David [Duguid] making a strong case for the industry in the heart of government."

Mr Gove went on to address what has been a grievance among many in fishing dating back to the 1970s when the Conservatives' Ted Heath was Prime Minister, going on to be accused of "selling out" the industry by ceding access to British fishing grounds to the EU.

He continued: "As the Prime Minister has pointed out himself, many people still remember Ted Heath and his actions when Britain was negotiating to enter the EU.

"He did a disservice to the fishing industry and the Prime Minister is determined that this doesn't happen again.

"Fishing has proved a sticking point and I think this shows just how hard we're fighting for the industry."

Mr Duguid reiterated the UK government's commitment to obtaining a good deal for fishing.

"It's very clear that fisheries is something that the government is holding to as a red line.

"I think that fisheries might be one of the last things agreed as part of a deal with the EU and we're determined not to repeat mistakes which were made in the past.

"When the UK voted to leave the EU fisheries was seen as one of the big winners and we're not going to throw that away."

Mr Ross welcomed the opportunity to meet up again with fishing industry leaders.

He said: "It was great to see Michael back in Moray, he has got strong links with the north-east.

"Michael was keen to give an update on the progress which has been made and it was good to see so many representatives from the fish catching, processing and shipbuilding industries here today.

"They were positive about the future but the government now has to deliver. Michael was very honest in his appraisal, especially about the mistakes Ted Heath made in the 1970s and was keen to reassure [industry representatives] that the government would not fall into the same traps again."

Mr Ewing warned that a continued refusal by Westminster to countenance a delay to the transition period could be "disastrous".

"I am concerned that the results of the refusal by the UK government to seek an extension to the transition period may be disastrous – loss of markets; imposition of tariffs; lack of clarity about workforce issues; lack of clarity about replacement to EMFF vital funding – and no clear place for Scotland in the vital negotiations.

“At a time when individuals, coastal communities and seafood businesses are struggling for survival during the Covid-19 outbreak, the UK government approach to Brexit will only serve to add further economic hardship and misery. Quite frankly, to risk adding huge new trade barriers to a key sector like seafood during a health and economic crisis is an act of sheer folly.

“While a commitment at last that perishable goods such as fish and shellfish will be prioritised in the event of any delays at Channel crossing points is welcome, this will still leave businesses worse off than they are now, enjoying barrier and tariff free access to their biggest export market.

“I and government officials will continue to do all we can to protect Scotland’s vital fishing interests, and to seek to influence the Brexit negotiations to minimise economic damage to Scotland.”

Industry leaders gave a cautious welcome to what they had heard.

Victor West, the managing director of Associated Seafoods Ltd which has a major processing plant in Buckie, said: "Just to have three ministers here together was encouraging.

"It was good to see them listening and I hope they now do something about what they've heard.

"There seems to be an understanding of the issues presented from the fishing and processing side."

Jimmy Buchan, who previously skippered the fishing vessel Amity II and featured on the hit BBC TV series Trawlermen, now works on the processing side, added: "We need to be focused on getting a deal for the fishing industry, we need a bit of certainty about how our important European market can be serviced.

"I think we're going to have to be realistic, this is a negotiation and we have to trust our political masters to listen and then deliver.

"The opportunity for the catching sector is huge, equally so for processing but risky as we're only as good as the market we've got. Covid-19 has shown us just how easily a market can be disrupted.

"I was delighted to see a Scottish minister here today as well. We all need to be singing from the same songsheet.

"There is a huge potential for prosperity and growth for the industry, both ashore and afloat; we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and head for the future."

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