Brexit will 'allow us to make changes to benefit the seafood industry' and 'foster closer farming relations'

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 16 May 2017

BREXIT may strengthen Grimsby's foothold in the European seafood market and see a closer relationship fostered with farmers, despite widespread concerns.

That is the message from Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom, who visited the area yesterday.

The one-time Conservative leadership candidate and former Energy Minister met with several important figures of the town's fishing industry at Humber Seafood Institute, where she answered questions and allayed fears of what the UK's decision to leave the European Union would bring. It followed a farm stop on the way at Elsham Top. 

Commercial manager of Grimsby Seafood Village, Ivan Jaines-White, was present at the meeting.

He said: "It was pleasing to hear what Andrea had to say when she spoke to us.

"Naturally, there are concerns about what Brexit may bring, as there will naturally be across several industries.

"We are never going to go back to the golden days of Grimsby being the capital of fishing in terms of catching.

"But over 80 per cent of fish touches down in our town at some point before heading towards all areas of the UK, and we want to keep it that way."

While addressing the panel, which was led by former councillor and former chief executive of Grimsby Fish Merchants' Association Steve Norton and managing director of Seafox, Simon Dwyer, Mrs Leadsom said: "From the meetings I've had with the ministers in Europe, I'm very, very optimistic about the future.

"It's clear from listening to the concerns just how much the industry means to people in Grimsby. It is iconic and we will always respect that. What it will allow us to do is take back control of the waters.

"Our seafood industry consists of three main areas, fishing, processing – which is very prominent in Grimsby – and agriculture.

"We are in a process of negotiation. But the decision to leave will give us a chance to make the changes we feel will benefit the industry, all across the UK."

Around 5,000 jobs are reliant on the area's seafood industry, with 90 per cent of fish that comes through being sourced from countries such as Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway, among others.

Mrs Leadsom continued: "Business will not be starved as a result of this.

"In fact we are really, really hopeful it will be the opposite. It is in our best interests to make sure the deal will result in zero tariffs.

"We want to make sure there is free trade with European nations. That is important to us and the EU.

"I have been given no indication to suggest otherwise."

Along with Mr Norton, Mr Dwyer and Mr Jaines-White, the panel consisted of conservative parliamentary candidates Martin Vickers and Jo Gideon, plus United Fish Industries general manager Mike Hryckowian.

Earlier she had spent time at Elsham Top Farm. She was reminded of the importance of the rural economy both to Lincolnshire and the UK. In Lincolnshire as a whole, around one in 10 people are currently employed in the agricultural industry – a business that is worth up to £1 billion a year to the county.

There were assurances from her that Brexit presented a big opportunity for the farming sector, but in order to deliver workable solutions it was necessary for those in the business to let the politicians know what was required.

Farmer Alex Godfrey, whose family specialise in pig, pea and cereal farming, said the industry had long been hampered by red tape and regulation, which stopped it moving forward.

Colleague Ben Jackson, a cereal grower, agreed: "Agencies are more than happy to tell you what you cannot do, but offer little advice on what you can."

Mrs Leadsom assured the delegation that even before Brexit, her department was facing a major shake-up, which would allow a closer working relationship between departments, with a greater focus.

"Before Brexit, a transformation began towards appreciating the needs of the farmers and what is making the business difficult for them. In order to have that appreciation we welcome you being specific about the things you don't like, send the top 10 regulations you hate on an e-mail to me," she said.

The Minister did pledge that action would come, post-Brexit to ease the burden of regulation, but warned that it would not be a quick job.

"Even now the super-tanker analogy is the right one to describe government," and referring to legislation changes, after Brexit, she added: "Changes will be slow and over a period of time."

Mr Godfrey replied: "Please, we ask that it is not too slow, as we are a dynamic business."

Other issues discussed included the worries over a lack of seasonal workers from overseas, imports of produce post-Brexit, farm diversification and the need for rural communities to have good infrastructure and digital technology.

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