Brexit: George Eustice questions change in EU regulations
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Rule changes that came into force as a result of the signing of the trade deal in December mean live mussels, cockles, oysters and other shellfish caught in the UK’s class B waters are no longer permitted to enter the EU. DEFRA had told companies they would be able to resume their operations on April 21 with the introduction of new regulations – but the European Commission subsequently said this was not the case.
Mr Eustice then accused the EU of changing its position and tried to arrange a meeting with European Commission officials, claiming he had previously been told the bloc’s insistence that the current rules are permanent was “indefensible” and “legally wrong”.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, he claimed the EU had changed its position “a couple of weeks ago”.
But a letter which he sent on December 10, and which has been seen by the PoliticsHome website, appears to indicate he was aware the EU rules were in fact in place indefinitely.
In a letter to Mr Eustice, Shadow Fisheries Minister Stephanie Peacock, who previously pressed the Minister in Parliament, demanded an explanation.
She asked: “During my urgent question I asked for sight of all correspondence between your department and the European Union on this subject.
“It seems extraordinary that after the 8th February 2020 exchange, no further discussion was had with the EU on this matter until last month, some eleven months later.
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“I would be grateful if you could confirm as a matter of urgency if the correspondence laid in the Commons Library is in fact the entirety of communication between your department and the EU on this subject.
“This severe negligence will have long-lasting and serious ramifications for our coastal communities”.
Peacock also called on the government to alter the Seafood Disruption Scheme set up to provide financial support to seafood exporters hit by post-Brexit disruption, with concerns that many traders are falling through the cracks.
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She added: “The criteria for the £23m Seafood Disruption Compensation Scheme (SDCS) are very limited in scope and do not appear to match the ambitions to which government ministers appear to have been alluding to publicly prior to its official launch.
”In many cases, these businesses have been tied up, shut down, and have had no income since 1st January.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk last week, fisherman Jeremy Percy, chairman of the New Under Tens Fishermen’s Association (NUFTA), said: “The whole issue of the export of live bivalves came to the fore and was immediately complicated by statements from Eustice et al that flip-flopped between ‘it’s all the fault of that nasty EU’ and just plain lies that this is illegal.
“As it turned out, not only was the EU doing no more than merely sticking to the very same rules that we were a signatory to but Eustice and co moved from their original claims ‘the dog ate my homework’ to coming relatively clean as soon as the statement he made to the industry body the Shellfish Association of GB, that admitted that it was our fault for not spotting the threat, became public knowledge.”
An email sent to the members of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain in January, and also seen by PoliticsHome, stated: “We have now received another update from DEFRA regarding the export of live-bivalve molluscs.
“All along they have told us that they believe the trade in class B animals is legal and that the regulation supports this. They have now changed this position.
“They now say that they believe on balance that the EU view, that the trade is not legal, is in fact correct. This is in complete contrast to everything they have told us so far.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “There is no scientific or technical justification for the European Commission banning the import of live bivalve molluscs from class B waters.
“This is already impacting business and damaging markets on both sides of the channel.
“We’re seeking urgent resolution on this matter. We are willing to provide additional reassurances to demonstrate shellfish health within reason, but this must recognise the existing high standards and history of trade between us”.
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