Food and farming groups have given a cautious welcome to the UK’s post-Brexit transition deal with the EU, but UK fishermen have taken to the Thames to protest against what they’ve branded a “pitiful, disgusting, abject betrayal” by government.
Brexit negotiators David Davis and Michel Barnier announced on Monday (19 March) that the post-Brexit transitional period would last from 29 March 2019 to December 2020, with the UK being able to negotiate and sign trade deals during that stage.
NFU president Minette Batters said the announcement would give farming businesses “a bit more certainty”, but called for more clarity over what would happen to trading arrangements during the transitional period.
A “smooth” transition would best be achieved by “retaining membership of the EU Customs Union until a settled free trade relationship comes into force,” she stressed.
NFU Scotland director of policy and member services Jonnie Hall also called for more clarity over “what trading arrangements will apply between the UK and EU both during transition, and in the short-to-medium term after December 2020 until new free trade deals are ratified”.
FDF director general Ian Wright, who has long-supported a transition period of at least two years, questioned whether the 21 months agreed would be long enough to ensure the “bulk of the industry” was ready for Brexit, with confidence in the systems on both sides of the Channel.
“Transition must not be open-ended but its end point will depend on how quickly the nature of our future trading relationship with the EU is confirmed,” he said.
“Food and drink manufacturers are now looking for serious reassurance from Government that it will not press ahead at any economic cost and that they will be flexible if systems - particularly customs - are not ready in 21 months’ time.”
In contrast, UK fishermen have attacked Theresa May’s government for not pushing for a deal that gave Britain control back over its fishing waters immediately on 29 March 2019.
Scottish Fishermens Federation boss Bertie Armstrong said the deal, which will see the UK forced to follow EU rules until December 2020, was “far short of acceptable”.
“We will leave the EU and leave the CFP, but hand back sovereignty over our seas a few seconds later,” he said. “Our fishing communities’ fortunes will still be subject to the whim and largesse of the EU for another two years.”
Pro-Brexit group Fishing for Leave warned the EU could use the transition period to introduce “detrimental legislation to eradicate what’s left of the British fleet” before using international fisheries law to “claim the surplus resources we would have lost the fleet capacity to catch”.
The group held a protest on the Thames today, with pro-Brexit politicians including Nigel Farage joining them to throw fish off trawlers outside Westminster.