Welsh minister warns of no-deal Brexit threat

‘Catastrophic impact on rural communities’

The Welsh fisheries minister has warned of the threat to the Welsh industry from a no-deal Brexit, as the end of October withdrawal deadline rapidly approaches, reports Tim Oliver

Lesley Griffiths’ warning came as the UK government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit were moving into top gear, despite the government putting fresh proposals to Brussels to try to reach agreement on a withdrawal deal.

The government has put formal written proposals to Brussels that seek to overcome the Irish hard border problem, in a last-ditch attempt to secure a withdrawal deal.

The initial response from Brussels was that it would study the proposals carefully, but that a number of problems relating to the Irish border issue still needed resolution.

EU member states and Brussels will need to agree on a deal before a crucial EU Council meeting next week, when a final decision is due to be made. If a deal is agreed, it would still have to be passed by the UK parliament to go ahead.

If agreement cannot be reached, there is great concern in some sectors of the industry over the impact of a no-deal Brexit, particularly in the shellfish and processing sectors, which rely heavily on exports.

The Welsh fishing industry catch is overwhelmingly shellfish, and fisheries and rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths said that leaving the EU without a deal would have ‘an immediate and long-term catastrophic impact on rural communities’.

She said that the Welsh government had ‘repeatedly made clear we must not leave without a deal which protects the interests of the environment, businesses and citizens’.

She expressed ‘serious concerns’ at the UK government’s ‘pursuit of an EU exit at any cost’ at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Inter-Ministerial Group on 9 September.

“The farming, fisheries, food and drink sectors rely on tariff-free imports and exports through open borders with the EU. These sectors also depend on EU workers,” said Ms Griffiths.

“No deal, and resulting tariffs and barriers to trade, would be devastating for the employment and economy of rural and coastal communities which rely on these sectors, and their associated supply chains.

“Far from removing red tape, leaving the EU with no deal will bring bureaucracy where none exists – customs declarations, export health certificates, fisheries catch certificates and border checks. This could result in delays, additional costs for businesses and increasing prices for consumers.

“So whilst we continue to argue against no deal, it is essential we continue to prepare for it. We have worked with our stakeholders and other administrations to ensure we are prepared. With the real threat of no deal, our attention is on contingency planning for exit this month.”

The Welsh minister said that amending EU legislation that has been absorbed into UK law to ensure the same powers and protections are in place had been ‘a mammoth task’. But she was confident that if we leave the EU on 31 October, legislation would be in place to continue trading with the EU.

Ms Griffiths warned that some issues were beyond the control of the Welsh government. For example, if the UK does not obtain third-country status from the EU, exports of animal and plant products will cease. Proposals to secure this are being discussed with the EU.

Quoting the Yellowhammer report, which set out no-deal Brexit scenarios in various sectors of the economy (Fishing News, 26 September, ‘Government warns of 280 vessels fishing illegally’), the minister said she expected ‘significant delays’ at ports.

“With shellfish exported live, those delays could mean the difference between catches reaching the continent in prime condition or having the consignment spoiled. Our fishers will face new administrative burdens, such as export catch and export health certificates. To put this into context, the number of export health certificates issued in Wales each year may rise tenfold.” Tariffs would also make Welsh exports less competitive in the EU market.

She said that intensive work is underway with DEFRA to develop contingency plans to prevent vulnerable sectors ‘from disappearing in the weeks following a no-deal exit. These plans would help these sectors be resilient to the initial impacts of a no-deal Brexit’.

The Welsh government was promoting the wellbeing of Welsh fishermen and farmers, she said, but support depended on UK government funding that it had ‘not yet committed to provide’.

“We are doing everything under our control to mitigate the impacts of no deal. I am confident we will be as prepared as possible by 31 October. However, factors remaining outside our direct influence will significantly affect Wales’ overall preparedness – business readiness, operations at UK borders and the tariff regime being key,” concluded Ms Griffiths.

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