Brexit three years on: The fishing industry says 'It's killing us'
Updated 01:39, 02-Feb-2023
Gary Parkinson

Of all the many Brexit battlegrounds, fishing was one of the hardest-fought. It moved beyond political promises and threats into legal action, angry blockades and trawlers being seized. 

Having spent almost 50 years as a fisherman, Ian Perkes was at the heart of the matter. Fishing out of Brixham, south-west England, Perkes voted 'Leave' in order to rid himself of EU competition and quotas. 

When CGTN Europe spoke to him in 2021, it was already proving difficult, with extra paperwork and costs eliminating profits. Two years on, has the situation improved?

"It's got worse, because charges have gone up," Perkes tells CGTN. "When this initially kicked off, for example, the health certificates were £60 ($74) per day, but they are now £240 ($296) per day – they have quadrupled. Local health authorities informed us that they've no longer got any assistance from government and that is the cost, take it or leave it."


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Fishing is a seasonal business, and some breeds are unavailable in certain waters for some parts of the year. Previously, Perkes had developed a network of two-way trading partnerships around Europe, but the increased legislation since the UK left the bloc has ruined many of these relationships. 

"The red tape has become such an absolute nightmare that companies I've worked with throughout Europe cannot even be bothered," Perkes says. 

Perkes contrasts this with the Norwegian fishing industry, which benefits from Norway being in the European Economic Area despite being outside the EU. "Norway have jumped on the bandwagon and seen the issues that we're having, and they've got this free trade deal where everything runs smooth, no hiccups, no borders."

Ian Perkes, a fisherman for nearly 50 years, feels regret and anger over Brexit. /CGTN
Ian Perkes, a fisherman for nearly 50 years, feels regret and anger over Brexit. /CGTN

Ian Perkes, a fisherman for nearly 50 years, feels regret and anger over Brexit. /CGTN

It's a far cry from the post-Brexit dream that Perkes was sold by former UK prime minister Boris Johnson and other members of the 'Leave' campaign. 

"Boris came down and said 'You're going to be so much busier when we come out of this mess – you're going to need more staff because the French are going to be desperate for your goods,'" Perkes recalls. "Not once did he mention it's going to cost us another £2,000 or £3,000 ($2,465-$3,700) a week in extra costs." 

Perkes also apportions blame to the French fishing industry, and again draws a contrast with the British experience. "The fishermen haven't been given their quota, they haven't taken it away from the French yet," he says. "The French still don't have to have the same procedure when importing their wine and cheese or oil or whatever it is they want to import into the UK."

Boris Johnson promised to Get Brexit Done. /Reuters
Boris Johnson promised to Get Brexit Done. /Reuters

Boris Johnson promised to Get Brexit Done. /Reuters

Brexit was partly promoted as an attempt to create a more global Britain less closely tied to Europe, and it has certainly made Perkes seek markets further afield. 

"I shall go to Boston in March to the seafood show," he says – refering to the Seafood Expo North America. "We've experimented sending shipments to the U.S. and will continue to do so. We send small shipments to the Middle East. If we can move more away from Europe and create other markets, then then that will be the case."

Perkes recently met his local MP to press the case for the fishing industry, but suspects any improvement is contingent upon a successful implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

"They seem to be waiting on what's going to happen with the Northern Ireland deal, which will hopefully get rid of some of the paperwork which is killing us," he says. "What the government can do to help is get the French to drop all these barriers, stop all these costs, speed the process up. Abolish the health certificate, abolish these customs charges, the VAT fee. 

"We now have to employ a French lawyer to organize our VAT – just another cost. So the government should sit down and say, 'We actually don't need all this. This isn't helping. This isn't making it more efficient.'"

Fishing remains a hugely contentious area. /Reuters
Fishing remains a hugely contentious area. /Reuters

Fishing remains a hugely contentious area. /Reuters

The huge question that hangs over every Brexit discussion is whether it was the right thing to do, and whether those who voted to leave would now stand by their decision or change their minds. Perkes is in no doubt. 

"I'd go back in tomorrow," he says. "As with a lot of other people in my position, it's not worked. It's not just killing our industry – I know farmers are suffering. They're all getting killed by all the red tape. 

"If there was a vote tomorrow, me and many many others would say 'We tried it, it didn't work, let's go back in.' Let's go back to as it was. Let's get rid of all these charges. Let's go back to making a living as we've managed to do for the last 45, 46 years. Because this is going to kill us."


Interview by Elizabeth Mearns, video produced by Thomas Triebel

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