Why didn't Grimsby's seafood trade do more to talk-up EU benefits before Brexit vote?
Grimsby Fish Market during its busiest week of the year at the first day of the big catch this Easter.
By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 17 Nov 2017
Brexit, I’m told by some in the news echelons, is no longer interesting readers.
As one taxi-driver told me recently, “I’m tuning out for two years and I’ll come back when they’ve actually decided what’s happening”.
He makes a fair point. The negotiations for Brexit have been painfully slow and the trade talks – where the UK’s future relationship with the European Union will be decided – have yet to start.
But the reaction to an article I wrote for the Grimsby Telegraph last week proved Brexit still very much has pulling power.
I reported how the seafood processing industry used a visit to Westminster to call for a free trade exemption for its produce at the ports of Immingham and Grimsby after the country leaves the EU.
Picked up by a few hardcore remainers – step forward physicist Professor Brian Cox and LBC radio ranter James O’Brien – the story was shared all over social media as people called Grimsby out for alleged hypocrisy.
Professor Brian Cox has had his say on Grimsby's sought-after Brexit deal
A town that voted by 70 per cent to end its relationship with Brussels could not now have its (fish)cake and eat it by opting out of post-Brexit tariffs, said sharp-toothed critics on Twitter.
Calls came in from BBC Radio 4, national newspaper journalists and German TV asking for interviews on the topic. Was this Brexit buyers’ remorse, they all wondered aloud?
National broadcaster Channel 4 featured their own version of the story and its fallout during its Wednesday evening news slot.
But, in the town, there was frustration at the way the industry’s idea was being perceived.
The first annoyance was the common misconception about the fishing industry and the seafood processing industry being one and the same thing.
Fishermen blighted by the Common Fisheries Policy were, and in some cases quite justifiably, annoyed by EU rules restricting fishing in British waters and voted out.
The seafood processing industry on the other hand, a sector which relies on the smooth flow of fresh imported produce from overseas for 90 per cent of what it turns into plate-ready food, benefits from the customs-light and free trade arrangements of the EU.
Such a distinction was not understood by those berating the town in 140-characters (or more thanks to last week’s liberation of Twitter’s own imposed restrictions).
There was a second frustration as well, and this time from pro-EU supporters in the town.
Grimsby's seafood industry has hit national headlines in the past week
If being part of the single market and the customs union – allowing for seafood to be traded without tariffs or checks between EU member states – was such a good situation for business, why did the processing industry not say that more clearly during the referendum campaign?
Before the referendum, a former spokesman for the industry told me how “irrespective of the outcome, people will continue to eat cod and haddock and the French will still want scallops for their Coquilles St-Jacques”.
The impression was, whatever happened, there would still be demand for the industry’s produce, so it didn’t matter which way the Brexit vote fell.
There is no disputing that people will continue to eat fish and other seafood after we leave the EU.
But if Grimsby’s seafood is no longer the freshest or is considerably more expensive, the worry is that it will be hard for the industry to continue to thrive in the way it has.