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'It's a catastrophe': Scottish fishermen halt exports due to Brexit red tape

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Many Scottish fishermen have halted exports to European Union markets after post-Brexit bureaucracy shattered the system that used to put fresh langoustines and scallops in French shops just over a day after they were harvested, writes .

Fishing exporters told Reuters their businesses could become unviable after the introduction of health certificates, customs declarations and other paperwork added days to their delivery times and hundreds of pounds to the cost of each load.

Business owners said they had tried to send small deliveries to France and Spain to test the new systems this week but it was taking five hours to secure a health certificate in Scotland, a document which is required to apply for other customs paperwork.

In the first working week after Brexit, one-day deliveries were taking three or more days - if they got through at all.

Several owners could not say for sure where their valuable cargo was. A trade group told fishermen to stop fishing exported stocks.

“Our customers are pulling out,” Santiago Buesa of SB Fish told Reuters. “We are fresh product and the customers expect to have it fresh, so they’re not buying. It’s a catastrophe.”

On Thursday evening, the Scottish fishing industry’s biggest logistics provider DFDS Scotland told customers it had taken the “extraordinary step” of halting until Monday export groupage, when multiple product lines are carried, to try to fix IT issues, paperwork errors and the backlog.

Scotland harvests vast quantities of langoustines, scallops, oysters, lobsters and mussels from sea fisheries along its bracing Atlantic coast which are rushed by truck to grace the tables of European diners in Paris, Brussels and Madrid.

But Britain’s departure from the EU’s orbit is the biggest change to its trade since the launch of the Single Market in 1993, introducing reams of paperwork and costs that must be completed to move goods across the new customs border.

Those trading in food and livestock face the toughest requirements, hitting the express delivery of freshly caught fish that used to move overnight from Scotland, via England, into France, before going on to other European markets in days.

David Noble, whose Aegirfish buys from Scottish fleets to export to Europe, said he would have to pay between 500 to 600 pounds ($815) per day for paperwork, wiping out most profit.

His concern is that this marks more than just teething problems, and says he cannot pass on the higher costs of doing business. “I’m questioning whether to carry on,” he said.

“If our fish is too expensive our customers will buy elsewhere.”

In the single market, European food could be processed and packed in Britain then returned to the EU for sale. But Britain’s pursuit of a more distant relationship means its trade deal does not cover all interactions between the two sides.

Gaps have already appeared on French and Irish shop shelves.

Fishing trade bodies said mistakes in filling out paperwork meant entire consignments were being checked. A French fishmongers’ union said numerous seafood trucks had been held up at the customs point in Boulogne for several hours, and even up to a day, due to faulty paperwork.

While that should improve with time, and IT issues should be resolved, Seafood Scotland warned they could see the “destruction of a centuries-old market” if it does not.

Fergus Ewing, Scottish secretary for the rural economy, said the right balance between speed and scrutiny must be found.

“It is far better for problems to be identified and resolved here in Scotland,” he said.

SB Fish’s Buesa, angered at suggestions that traders were not prepared, said all his paperwork was correct and demanded to know why business leaders were not making more of a fuss.

He owns the business with his father, has been exporting for 28 years and employs around 50 people. “I’m in the trenches here,” he said. “It’s gridlock.”

($1 = £0.7363)

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Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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Britain and EU at odds over bloc's diplomatic status in UK after Brexit

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Britain and the European Union are at odds over the British government’s refusal to grant EU representatives’ full diplomatic status in London after Brexit, write Estelle Shirbon and Elizabeth Piper in London and John Chalmers in Brussels.

An EU member state for 46 years, Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to leave, and completed its tortuous journey out of the bloc on 31 December, when Brexit fully took effect.

The BBC reported that the Foreign Office was refusing to grant the same diplomatic status and privileges to EU Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida and his team as it gives to envoys of countries, on the basis that the EU is not a nation state.

Following the report, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman: “The EU, its delegation and staff will receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively.

“It’s a matter of fact that the EU is a collective of nations, but it’s not a state...in its own right,” he said.

Under the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations, envoys representing countries have certain privileges such as immunity from detention and, in some cases, prosecution, as well as tax exemptions.

Representatives of international organisations whose status is not covered by the convention tend to have limited and less clearly defined privileges.

The European Commission, the 27-member bloc’s executive body, said the EU’s 143 delegations around the world had all been granted a status equivalent to that of diplomatic missions of states, and Britain was well aware of the fact.

“Granting reciprocal treatment based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is standard practice between equal partners and we are confident that we can clear this issue with our friends in London in a satisfactory manner,” said Peter Stano, the commission’s spokesman for foreign affairs.

Stano added that when Britain was still an EU member, it had been supportive of the diplomatic status of EU delegations.

“Nothing has changed since the UK’s exit from the European Union to justify any change in stance on the UK’s part,” he said.

A British government source said the issue of the EU delegation’s status was subject to ongoing negotiations.

Former US President Donald Trump’s administration lowered the status of the EU delegation to Washington in January 2019, but later reversed the decision and restored full diplomatic status to it.

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Michel Barnier awarded European of the Year Award by Irish European Movement

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Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier, was presented with European Movement Ireland’s European of the Year Award at an online award ceremony this morning (21 January). The European of the Year Award recognises and pays tribute to individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to developing the connections and relationship between Ireland and Europe.

Accepting the Award, Mr Barnier said, “It is truly an honour to receive the “European of the Year” award.” He said, “My team and I were particularly attentive to the concerns voiced by all the different parties and communities of Ireland and Northern Ireland [during EU/UK negotiations]. We travelled several times to Ireland and Northern Ireland, we went to the border, we walked on the peace bridge in Derry/Londonderry. Above all, we listened to and engaged with students, workers, business owners and rural communities. Because Brexit is first and foremost about people…The memories of the Troubles are never far away.

“I continue to believe that we have to be both patriotic and European – patriote et européen. The two go together. That is why preserving EU unity was so important throughout the Brexit process. The unity and solidarity between EU countries was visible at every step of our negotiations with the UK. Contrary to what many predicted at the time of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Brexit did not trigger the end of the European Union, but the strengthening of its unity…Together, we can build a Europe that not only protects but also inspires…A Europe that continues to make us stronger together. Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity.”

DUBLIN : 21/1/2021: Noelle O Connell, CEO and Maurice Pratt, Chairperson of EM Ireland hosting a virtual ceremony from Dublin to present Michel Barnier with the EM Ireland European of the Year Award. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

European Movement Ireland Chair, Maurice Pratt paid tribute to Michel Barnier, “Over a long and difficult period, Michel Barnier sought to protect and advance European interests and values while also working to maintain a close and productive relationship with the United Kingdom. The agreement which has been reached is positive. While issues remain, it has provided clarity to businesses and citizens. Also, and importantly, this agreement can be built upon, with a view to ensuring the EU and the UK have an ongoing, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship in the future. Ireland, as a proud EU member state with the closest relationship to the UK, has a role to play as a future facilitator in that process.”

Honouring Michel Barnier for his work to secure an EU-UK trade deal, Noelle O Connell, CEO of EM Ireland said, “This award recognises individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to developing the connections and relationship between Ireland and Europe. Promoting this greater engagement amongst the countries and peoples of Europe is something that Mr Barnier has pursued with distinction throughout his career. He has never wavered from his commitment to safeguarding, protecting and upholding the integrity and values of the European Union and in doing so has protected Ireland’s interests throughout the Brexit process.”

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