Scotland’s seafood industry fears a return to border chaos

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the House of Commons on 17 May that the Northern Ireland Protocol, introduced in 2021, had caused unforeseen problems.

The U.K. government’s intention to introduce new legislation that makes swift changes to the post-Brexit rules surrounding the checking of goods at the Irish border has drawn fire from Scotland’s seafood industry, particularly the farmed salmon sector.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the House of Commons on 17 May that the Northern Ireland Protocol, introduced in 2021, had caused unforeseen problems, including “unnecessary bureaucracy” for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Truss said that a proposed Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would mean that British goods destined for sale in Northern Ireland would only have to meet U.K. standards, and not those of the European Union. She said that while the government’s preference is to reach a negotiated outcome with the E.U. and that months of talks had already taken place, the urgency of the situation meant that the government would be prepared to act without reaching such an agreement.

The E.U. previously warned that renegotiating the text of the Northern Ireland Protocol is unacceptable to it, and that it would respond negatively to any unilateral action by the United Kingdom.

Seafood Scotland Chief Executive Donna Fordyce said any action that has the potential to upset “the still-precarious trade movements” between the United Kingdom and the E.U. would be “most unwelcome” for Scotland’s seafood sector.

“On behalf of the fishing communities, processors, fishing families, and the hundreds of other people who depend on the seafood trade for a living, we urge the U.K. government to proceed with caution and to keep talking, in the hope of finding an amicable solution to the challenges arising from the protocol,” Fordyce said. “The E.U.’s rhetoric of ‘consequences’ is ominous, and there is so much to be lost in the trade-off. From impact on costs, duty, ease of movement to tying our exporters up in even more red tape, this latest news will be a blow to Scottish companies who have been working around the clock to get back on track, maintaining sales and securing jobs in coastal communities throughout Scotland. The system for moving goods to the E.U. is far from perfect, but we have reached a point where movement is at least possible. A step back to the hold ups that hit us immediately after Brexit will cost Scotland dearly, once again.”

Also raising industry concerns about the impact of a so-called “trade war,” Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, stressing that changes to the protocol could undo the hard work done to drive up exports to the E.U. in recent months.

“Any deterioration in relationships between London and Brussels which leads to friction at the border, delays and queues for hauliers crossing to France, or extra costs for our exporters could put us back to where we were at the start of last year when exports were in chaos,” Scott wrote. “We urge you – and all in your government – to keep talking to Europe and to find ways of securing an amicable and consensual agreement to this dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol. If that does not happen, the impact on U.K exporters could be considerable.”

Scott told Johnson that Salmon Scotland’s members have been working closely with officials in the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the full digitization of the certification scheme for exports to the E.U.

“We believe this will make a significant difference and make it easier for exporters to get their goods to the continent. I would urge you to throw your efforts behind that process. The economy will get a far bigger boost from moves like that, which ease the burden on exporters, rather than rows with Europe which are only likely to make the situation worse,” he wrote. “Scottish salmon is the standard-bearer for U.K. food exports to the E.U. We are immensely proud to be in that position, but we are equally aware of how fragile the exporting process can be if there are disputes at a government level. That is why we are urging you today not to do anything that puts the U.K. on a collision course with Europe. That really is the last thing our exporters need at this time.”

Scott has also held talks with Defra through mid-May.

Scottish salmon sales to the E.U were worth GBP 372 million (USD 462.2 million, EUR 439.1 million) in 2021 – accounting for 61 percent of global Scottish salmon exports.

Photo courtesy of Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock


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