Fishermen’s trade bodies accuse Johnson of lying to them

The boiling anger in UK fishing communities spilled out into the open yesterday with trade bodies in Scotland and England both accusing Boris Johnson of telling lies. The Scottish Fishing Federation (SFF) published an astonishing open letter to the prime minister which says, “You and your Government have spun a line about a 25% uplift in quota for the UK, but you know this is not true, and your deal does not deliver that”.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the SFF bluntly told the prime minister that his “desperately poor deal on fisheries in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, is not what you promised the fishing industry”.

In England, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) letter, seen by The Times, was equally direct:

“Everything … that you, and others at the very top of government told us, and also told parliament [and] the general public, led us to believe that your stance on fishing was not just rhetoric or expedience, but was based around a principle — that a sovereign country should be able to control who fishes in its own waters and should be able to harvest the fish resources in its own waters primarily for its own people. That proved not to be the case”.

What particularly angered the NFFO is not that Johnson capitulated before a more powerful opponent, which even they recognise he has done, but that he has taken them for fools once too often and “tried to present the agreement as a major success when it is patently clear that it is not”.

Does this mark a turning point for Brexit? Are the communities that were promised so much since 2016 now prepared to call out Johnson’s lies? If so, the MPs who have been prepared to help out in gaslighting the nation may need to think again before swinging in behind the PM.

A prime example is Mr John Lamont, the Scottish Tory MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk since 2017. He was quick to welcome the deal, publishing a fawning piece in The Scotsman on 30 December: Why I’m supporting Brexit trade deal and why it’s good for Scottish fishing

Within two weeks he was calling in parliament for “compensation for those facing losses” and later, according to The Berwickshire News, saying:

“The problems affecting the fishing industry need to be fixed immediately. These are very complex problems and the UK government needs to produce a solution. Scottish seafood needs to be reaching the EU market.”

John Lamont, Tory MP The Berwickshire News 14 January 2021

Perhaps he hadn’t actually read the deal. What had been a “a remarkable achievement” a few days before, now required seafood businesses to be “compensated accordingly”. It is clear that Johnson’s fisheries deal is unwinding quicker than a trawler winch with a faulty ratchet.

The fact that the Fisheries minister Victoria Prentis has admitted not reading the deal because she was busy organising a Christmas nativity play, and Jacob Rees-Mogg joked about fish being “happier” now they’re British, has not helped calm tempers.

The latest industry to raise concerns is meat export, according to the BBC. The Export Health Certificate (EHC) system that Lord Frost agreed to is based on moving containers of frozen meat from places like Canada, where timing is not critical.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processor Association, said: “Fundamentally, this is not a system that was designed for a 24/7, just-in-time supply chain. No matter how much better we get at filling in the forms, it’s really not fit for purpose. This is going back to the dark ages in terms of a process really, in this digital age”.

Nevertheless, this is what the UK government has agreed.

Many Tory MPs have voiced support for a deal which they have not read and do not understand. As it unravels, they will need to be careful how much support they offer Boris Johnson. The lies are all starting to wear very thin.

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