Red tape: A piscatorial take

By Kenny Campbell,
Best for Britain's Director of Communications


Aquaman: It’s one of the kinder soubriquets applied to MP John Redwood last week after he declared that Britain was to become an independent country, controlling its own fish.

While Cap’n Redwood was pontificating about piscatorial control, those whose business is fish-based were still trying to work out how this brave new waterworld would work in practice.

The answer was … with difficulty.

You see, while the headlines around the great UK-EU fisheries tussle have focused, like Mr Redwood, on who gets access to what, the real world has been wrestling with how to build a post-Brexit fisheries business model.

Just like the rest of us, the fisheries industry does not yet know what tariffs will be applied when the Brexit transition period ends. This is important – the UK imports 70 per cent of the fish it eats, and exports 80 per cent of what it catches, and something as fundamental as a pricing decision can’t be completed in the absence of such basic information.

Tale of the tape

But there is another, hidden cost starting to make its unwelcome presence felt: the cost of red tape.

For example, from January, if a fishing vessel’s catch is exported to the EU, then that vessel must be registered as a food business with the local authority.

The authority will then carry out an inspection of this floating food business which, of course, is going to cost someone, somewhere, something.

Unless you’re in the trade, you probably don’t know that more than a quarter of the UK fisheries ‘catch’ is actually shellfish – perhaps someone could ask Mr Redwood how the control status of crustaceans will change when the new rules come in.

A whale of a list

While Mr Redwood – surely an Ahab for the age of Twitter – was drowning in ridicule last week, the technical manager at Loch Fyne Langoustines was pulling together a list of post-Brexit checks for truckloads of the little lobsters, which are particularly popular in France and Spain.

That list laid bare the looming red tape tsunami about to crash down on the industry.

The checks ran to four pages – that’s the list of checks, not the actual forms, certification, labels, permits and suchlike.

As the company tweeted: ‘Who said exporting to the EU after Brexit would be easy? Our technical manager has put this together – will we even bother after 1st Jan?’

And woe betide any company which messes up the paperwork, or any truck driver who leaves their documentation back at base – Port of Calais Chief Executive Jean-Marc Puissesseau has an orange-coloured lane of pain for detailed examinations of lorries and their admin.

On Monday, Mr Puissesseau told the Lords: ‘It will be so difficult for them to cross that they will do it maybe one time; they will not forget [their paperwork] two times.’

Road to hell

This, then, is the reality of taking back control of our fish.

It’s a truckload of langoustines, ageing slowly in a Kent queue, with a driver desperate to find a loo and even more desperate not to fall foul of the exciting new bureaucracy that has been introduced to cross-Channel haulage.

It will take more than a chunk of Yorkie and a parp on the airhorn to make this fresh hell palatable.

And, of course, the red tape is coming whether Boris Johnson strikes a deal or not: bureaucracy is more resilient than cockroaches, and more hated too. 

You see, this is just the baseline hell. If our negotiators can’t net a deal of some sort, then tariffs, quotas and all manner of other horrors will be applied before you can say ‘Get in the sea, Aquaman’.

We should perhaps celebrate Mr Redwood’s confidence that Britain is about to undergo an underwater Renaissance of some sort, because the fishing industry has precious little else to celebrate right now.

It’s small – about one tenth of one per cent of GDP – has a large foreign ownership, is utterly dependent on overseas trade and is seeing its business model being battered by Brexit fallout.

And it needs, desperately, to trade competitively with Europe, which means it needs a deal.

Whatever Aquaman may say, you can’t have your fishcake and eat it.

Kenny Campbell
Director of Communication, Best for Britain

Follow Best for Britain on Twitter at @BestforBritain