Activate no-deal Brexit plans to deal with France freight ban – Sturgeon

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Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to activate no-deal Brexit port disruption plans as Scottish exporters warned millions of perishable products are stuck waiting to enter France.

France announced a ban on hauliers taking freight across the Channel on Sunday night over fears around the spread of a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus.

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland is well stocked with food and medical supplies and there is “no issue that causes concern for the immediate few days ahead” but that the situation is being closely monitored.

French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Monday a protocol would be adopted at a European Union-wide level “to ensure that movement from the UK can resume”.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

She told the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing: “In particular, the UK has planned for port disruption as part of a no-deal Brexit and those plans should now be activated.”

Speaking later following a meeting of the Scottish Government Resilience Room she said: “We are closely engaged with the UK Government, pressing them to find an urgent solution and get the Channel ports open again. That is the over-riding priority.

“What is reassuring is that Scotland is well stocked with food and medical supplies. We are in close communication with the NHS and with food retailers, and there is no issue that causes concern for the immediate few days ahead. We will be monitoring this position closely – particularly as we move into the post-Christmas period.

“What absolutely is an immediate concern is the impact on exporters, not least of perishable goods such as seafood. This is their most critical time of year and, right now, their products are trapped miles from their markets. That has to be urgently resolved.

“We have raised the question of financial support for those hit by this action with the UK. We stand ready to help in any practical way we can as this situation develops and will keep all actions under active review.”

Food export firms in Scotland have warned the ban is a “disaster”.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “We need the ban on freight moving across the English Channel lifted in the next 24 hours so products can start moving by Tuesday morning at the latest.

“We have heard from companies with dozens of lorries now stuck, having travelled overnight to Dover or the Eurotunnel which are now shut to incoming traffic.

“They are carrying perishable products worth millions and the clock is ticking for that product to survive these delays.

“We estimate there will be over £5 million of Scottish food that would be been heading into France daily this week.”

He continued: “The timing of this could scarcely be worse for many businesses.

“There are critically important markets scheduled for Wednesday in France and Spain as part of the big pre-Christmas sales rush.

“As things stand, Scottish seafood exports will not reach them, which will compound the losses businesses have already suffered as a result of Covid this year.”

Scottish Government export figures released last week indicate France remains the single largest importer of Scottish food and drink products.

Exports to France for the first nine months of 2020 are already down 11.3% on the same period the previous year.

Mr Withers added: “We need the UK Government to urgently agree a protocol for freight movements, with perhaps the testing of drivers able to provide the necessary reassurance.”

The Scottish Seafood Association echoed his call, with chief executive Jimmy Buchan saying the move was a “disaster” for companies already hard hit by the first wave of the pandemic.

Mr Buchan said: “Not just for the sake of SSA members, but for the millions who enjoy our world-class seafood across Europe, we call upon the French, at the very least, to allow perishable goods to flow.

“These few days in the run-up to Christmas is hugely busy for a lot of our members, with seafood destined for all parts of the Continent going via France.

“Traditionally in Spain seafood is a major part of Christmas Eve, and most of our exports get there via the Eurotunnel or Dover-Calais routes, so it is a disaster for our members.”

Scottish company Lochfyne langoustines said it had “hundreds of thousands of pounds” of product heading to Dover.

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