Scots’ Brexit worries pile up

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Cash for rural aquaculture, ease of travel and the fate of a workforce top list of Brexit concerns

Scottish salmon farmers’ long list of concerns and to-do’s ahead of “Brexit Day” in March 2019 appear to be growing, judging by a month’s worth of urgent letters between politicians and the industry’s declared hopes and fears.

Chief among fears are the loss of European Union money for growers, their communities and research as part of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Under the EMFF, the U.K. and Scotland together were, in 2014, allocated EUR 243 million to last until 2020: this year’s allowance is EUR 35.4 million.

Other prominent fears include an unstable Pound; lost EU workers and two-bloc customs hassles that would bog down fish transports dependent, in part, on the clock for their value. Scottish parliamentarians on Friday exchanged notes on the urgency of preparing laws that harmonized with Europe’s, whatever the Brexit outcome.

“A key component of the single market we enjoy is the free movement of labour,” a New Year’s memo to Scottish parliamentarians from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organization said. Some 65 percent of the 6,500 people employed by the industry are skilled and semi-skilled migrant workers from inside the EU.

“It is, therefore, essential in any future trade agreement with the EU that our immigration policy reflects the need to safeguard these jobs and allows companies to recruit the people and skills they need,” the memo said, adding that the UK — once it exits the EU on ‘Brexit Day 2019’ — needs to offer “similar means”, as in cash, for the remoter, aquaculture regions the EU Fund was set up to help.

On Thursday, however, the likelihood of that kind of support for Scottish salmon growers from the U.K. and Scottish parliaments seemed diminished. Aquaculture — seen as key to jobs in remoter parts of Scotland — was not named a “key sector” in Thursdays naming of remote industries to benefit from money for apprentice programs.

“At least 28,000 new apprentices will be trained (in 2018 and 2019), with increased support for rural areas and key sectors,” Minister for Employability and Training, Jamie Hepburn, announced in Thursday’s parliamentary debate, as he unveiled increases to the government’s “employability” program. The ray of hope in the package was that management apprentices — earmarked to bring matching funds for businesses of from GBP 1,200 to GBP 1,200 each — includes those hoping to manage salmon production.

With the EU wanting the U.K. to pay for the maintenance and use of its inner market — and with Britain so far refusing — thoughts turn of what might happen to Scotland’s EUR 149 million in salmon exports to the Continent. Europe accounts for 45 percent of Scottish export volume and value.

To safeguard those millions, SalmonBusiness understands that salmon-farming Scots have asked Brexit negotiators for, if nothing else, a streamlined customs arrangement for rules of origin; shipping and “no, or minimal, impediments to market entry at marine ports, airports or other points of entry”.

There’s a lot to do, indeed, before timetabled break-free Brexit Day on March 29th, 2019, and ahead of autumn 2018, when future UK-EU terms are expected to be completed. Then again, as with all national moves threatening the EU, all 27 member states will have to approve whatever terms are agreed.