Failed Brexit vote cranks up uncertainty for seafood sector

Published on
January 16, 2019

The crushing defeat of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed package for leaving the European Union has edged the country closer to the so-called “no deal” Brexit – the scenario most feared in seafood circles.

Members of parliament (MPs) yesterday rejected May’s deal by a majority of 230 (202 for and 432 against), inflicting the largest House of Commons defeat in British political history. And with just 72 days to go until Brexit, opposition MPs demanded that she extend Article 50 to give time for consensus to be found, while opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a motion of no confidence in her government that will be voted on today, 16 January. 

With May’s deal dead in the water and a solution to the deadlock proving elusive, the growing concern is that a no deal Brexit becomes more likely, and Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Commission (EC), has said that such an outcome is looming. Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has hinted at the need to reverse Brexit with a second referendum.

Should the current government survive the vote of no confidence, it might instead propose a new departure deal, which would probably require a complete renegotiation and a deadline extension. However, if nothing else happens then the default position is a no-deal Brexit.

No deal is widely regarded as the worst result for the U.K. seafood industry because it has historically seen a lot of its exports go to E.U. member states. If this indeed proves to be the outcome, then there are concerns about what it will mean to supply chains in terms of border delays and tariffs.

The government has already advised that if there is no deal in place by 29 March then importers and exporters will need a catch certificate for the movement of most fish products moving between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

At the same time, vessel owners or skippers making direct landings from U.K. vessels into E.U. ports will also need to issue a catch certificate. They will need verification for the certificate from the U.K. fisheries authority where the vessel is licensed and they must have this before submitting the content to the authority in the E.U. country of import.

Similarly, for fish coming from the E.U., the importer will need a catch certificate for each consignment and for every direct landing of fishery products. The exporter will have to submit the certificate to the Port Health Authorities or relevant fisheries authority and this certificate will need to be checked at least three working days before the estimated arrival time into the United Kingdom. 

In 2016, the U.K. exported GBP 1.17 billion (USD 1.5 billion, EUR 1.3 billion) of seafood to the E.U., and imported products valued at GBP 1.04 billion (USD 1.3 billion, EUR 1.2 billion) from the bloc. France, Spain, and the Netherlands are among the U.K.’s most important seafood markets.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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