Brussels’ decision to place barriers on live UK shellfish exports is “indefensible”, the Environment Secretary has said.
George Eustice insisted there is “no legal barrier” to prevent the trade, and has called on the European Commission to abide by existing regulations.
The introduction of new checks and paperwork since the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 has caused disruption to exports of fresh fish and seafood to the EU.
Producers have expressed frustration at the lack of Government action, while last month seafood hauliers protested against the Brexit fishing deal by stacking lorries in central London.
Mr Eustice said the Commission changed its position last week, and that prior to that “they had been clear that this was a trade that could continue”.
He said in an interview with LBC that the action, which puts a “ban on the trade altogether” was “quite unexpected and really indefensible”.
“Whereas previously they’d been clear that this is trade that could continue, and all they needed to do was design the right export health certificate,” he added.
And he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We wrote to the Commissioner yesterday, we have been in dialogue with them.
“The truth is there is no legal barrier to this trade continuing, both on animal health grounds and on public health grounds – there is legal provision within existing EU regulations to allow such trade to continue from the UK.
“We are just asking the EU to abide by their existing regulations and not to seek to change them.
“They did change their position just last week – prior to that they had been clear that this was a trade that could continue – so we want to work to understand why they are proposing a change at this stage.”
He said the UK is hoping it can resolve the issue with the EU and “get them to abide by their own regulations”.
French MEP Pierre Karleskind, who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on fisheries, told Today that Brexit was to blame for the issues but said they do not make sense.
“I have no problem with the fact that we have to find this solution, unfortunately so far the answer that I received from Mrs (Stella) Kyriakides, the (European) commissioner for health, was no.
“So I am not satisfied so far with this question and the fact is that the UK waters did not become dirty on the 31st December at midnight, so this really doesn’t make any sense.
“Except that we have to find a way to be sure in the long term we will have the insurance that what we import from the UK does satisfy the high standards of quality and of sanitary quality for our consumer.”
The Government’s £23 million compensation scheme for the fishing industry is now open.
The UK-wide seafood disruption support scheme will help businesses which suffered a loss due to export problems in January, providing up to £100,000 per firm.
Fisheries minister Victoria Prentis said: “We will continue to work closely with the fisheries and seafood industry through our seafood exports working group to troubleshoot any issues that cause delays to the export of these highly perishable goods.”