From Hansard 27th April

Sally-Ann Hart MP: Brexit is a great opportunity to turbocharge global Britain, but unfortunately it has not worked so far for fishermen in my beautiful constituency of Hastings and Rye. Had it not been for Mr Keith Chapman setting up an export hub in Rye for local fishermen, many might not have survived. He did that at his own expense, and he has not been eligible for any of the Government funding made available to the fishing industry. What further support can be provided to assist entrepreneurs such as Mr Chapman when exports are hit by the double whammy of Covid and Brexit?  

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of Exchequer: Fishing is at the heart of many of our coastal communities, and I pay tribute to Mr Chapman and my hon. Friend for their commitment to the sector. I am happy that the Government are also championing and committed to the sector, and we have announced a £100 million fund to modernise our fleet and infrastructure. That is on top of £32 million that will replace EU funding this year, and £23 million that was made available earlier to support the sector, while adjusting to new export requirements.


PICTURE: John Cole


Local MP admits Brexit has harmed Hastings Fishermen

By Nick Pelling   

Whisper it quietly but our local MP, Sally-Ann Hart, feels that Brexit “has not worked” for the fishermen of Hastings and Rye – see her exchange above with the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak in the House of Commons on April 27th. When you consider the promises that the Conservatives were making – such as Dominic Raab’s claim that they had achieved “a great deal for the fishing industry” – the MP’s words are almost shocking in their plain honesty.

Some readers may feel Brexit is over and not worth another drop of printing ink. But it is not over for fishermen. The fishermen were led to believe that Britain would reclaim British territorial waters or at least regain control out to 12 miles from the British coastline, just as the French have control of their waters to that limit. This did not happen. Even the gains that are supposed to come in the five-year ‘period of adjustment’ look pretty negligible. On top of that, the tangled bureaucracy now imposed upon British exporters of fish to the EU is voluminous, time-consuming and prone to bloody-minded game-playing. 

This is where the heroic Keith Chapman comes in. His company, Chapman’s of Rye, has created an export hub in which he offers to take the strain off the fishermen by doing the paperwork centrally and thereby cutting costs for fishermen. In some ways he offers a guaranteed market and transports fresh fish speedily. He has, in short, found ways of alleviating some of the pain created by the strangling bureaucracy of Brexit. But problems remain.

‘Modernisation’

Rishi Sunak’s claim that the government has set aside £100m to help ‘modernise’ the British fishing fleet is met with scepticism by Paul Joy, the Chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society. He says that the real problem is not that the Hastings fleet is old-fashioned but that DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is submissively handing out too many fishing licenses to European trawlers that indulge the kind of trawling, such as fly-shooting vast nets, that plunder what should have been British waters and under-cut sustainability. 

It is certainly hard to imagine the small beach-launched boats of the Hastings fleet being ‘modernised’ to compete with European super-trawlers. Mr Joy is blunt: “we were sold out”, he says, to facilitate the wider deal. The language of betrayal is highly dramatic, of course, but it is hard to resist the feeling from Sally-Ann Hart’s words in parliament that fishermen were regarded as expendable.

Perhaps giving up a fisheries pawn in favour of more important moves may have been justifiable. Some sacrifices can be tactically worthwhile. But then came the spectacle of Boris indulging in ‘gunboat diplomacy’ when French trawlers threatened Jersey. It surely makes little sense to threaten war after you have surrendered.

There may be positive ways forward for the British fishing industry. Mr Joy offered the view that more effective internal marketing of British fish
could prove a way round the Brexit entanglements. Britain exports about 80% of its home-caught fish and imports a similar amount from Europe. There is a clear absurdity here. But changing this will take much time. In the meantime Boris Johnson and President Macron will no doubt carry on posturing and playing out dramas on the high seas, largely for home consumption. While that rather dangerous game continues, Hastings fishermen will find no comfort in knowing that their MP has had the courage – albeit in a single sentence in an obscure parliamentary question – to speak the truth.  


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