SNP’s Brock admits ‘good news’ for exports to EU
SNP MP Deirdre Brock, Shadow Environment Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, today exposed double thinking in the party over Brexit by acknowledging that there had been some “good news” for the food and drinks sector.
She made the admission after her SNP colleague at Holyrood Rona Mackay accused Westminster Tory minister George Eustice of failing to identify a single benefit for the food and drink sector from Britain’s exit from the EU.
Daily Business drew the party’s attention to data published in February showing a 29% surge in salmon exports last year. The industry’s Scottish spokesman Tavish Scott yesterday said in a letter to Downing Street that “producers are now exporting more to the EU than ever before”.
In a statement, Ms Brock did not mention Ms Mackay’s comments but admitted: “This is some good news at last for Scotland’s world-leading food and drinks sector.”
She added that the data “defies the overwhelming odds presented to so many of our exports by Brexit obstacles and increased export costs.
“It is testament not just to the quality of our produce but to the hard work of staff in the sector who have continued to brilliantly showcase the best of Scottish food and drink abroad – and it shows again what Scotland can do. We could do much more as an independent country back inside the European single market, which is seven times bigger than the UK market.
“However, it is a sorry situation to be celebrating what is only a return to the levels we once had within the EU. Scottish food exports had previously more than doubled in ten years – had we not been dragged out of the EU against our will, our export and economic performance could have been so much greater.
“For far too long Scottish industries have been made to pay the price for a Brexit they didn’t want or vote for, it is time that changed for good.
“Scottish exports have been struggling in the face of continued Brexit pressures – for these numbers to continue and for the whole sector to reap the rewards, we must see some genuine commitment and effort from the UK government to tear down its Brexit mountain of red-tape.“
Mr Eustice, Westminster Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister, today appeared before the Scottish parliament’s rural affairs committee and offered reassurance to members’ concerned over potential changes to the Northern Ireland protocol.
But the dispute with Ms Mackay was not mentioned, nor did he issue an apology for Brexit as demanded by Ms Mackay.
Ahead of the session, she said: “Leading Brexiteers like George Eustice have failed to identify a single Brexit benefit to Scotland’s food and drink industry.”
She accused him of “spouting nonsense” when he promised that Brexit would deliver a a better deal for the UK.
“If he can’t point out a Brexit benefit to Scotland’s food and drinks sector when he appears before the Scottish Parliament, then he should really apologise for the misleading nonsense he spouted as he campaigned to inflict this disaster on us,” she said.
The data released by the HM Revenue & Customs in February this year revealed that £614 million of salmon was sold overseas in 2021, a rise of £136m on the previous year and just short of the record £618m in 2019. Sales to the European Union were up 29% to £372m, and exports to France rocketed by 64%.
Following publication of the data on 11 February, Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said they were “incredibly encouraging figures” and the SNP’s Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “Scottish salmon plays a vital role in our food and drink success story as the UK’s biggest food export, and these figures demonstrate the growing, global appetite for this nutritious and low carbon food source.”
Far from seeing no benefits, industry leaders are now expressing a concern that a trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol will upset the progress that has made to rebuild exports with the bloc.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday amid con, Mr Scott said: “We are now navigating the rough waters of Brexit more successfully.
“Through considerable effort and a willingness to adapt, we have eased the burdens down to a manageable level. Indeed, our producers are now exporting more to the EU than ever before.
“What will undo all this hard work, however, is a trade war with Europe.
“Our members have been working closely with officials in Defra on the full digitisation of the certification scheme for exports to the EU. We believe this will make a significant difference and make it easier for exporters to get their goods to the continent.”
Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “The system for moving goods to the EU is far from perfect, but we have reached a point where movement is at least possible.”