From Farage’s flotilla to rotting exports – it’s the story of Brexit, in fish

Figcaption From Farages Flotilla To Rotting Eports Its The Story Of Breit In Fish
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

“E very revolution evaporates,” declared Kafka, “and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.” The government’s Brexit deal has gone one better, leaving both the slime of a new bureaucracy and heaps of rotting shellfish on the docks, as fishermen discover they cannot export them to the European Union. In public, environment secretary and reconstituted shrug emoticon George Eustice claims the EU’s shellfish ban is “legally wrong”, while in private his department informs the shellfish industry that the opposite is the case. Such a fine line, isn’t it, between having had enough of experts and having had enough of exports.

Even by their own standards, however, the Brexiteers’ ghosting of the fishermen is something to behold. Every day brings new stories of businesses folding under the weight of red tape or insurmountable non-tariff barriers, and a government response that’s basically: “I want you to know that what we had was really special and also I’m blocking you now.”

Can it really be just four and a half years since the so-called Thames flotilla, that hallucinatory moment in the referendum campaign when all sorts of leading Brexiteers joined a large group of fishing boats at Tower Bridge? From there, they would lead them up both the Thames and the garden path.

Along with several journalists that day, I spent many hours aboard a luxury dining vessel with Nigel Farage, Kate Hoey and other misunderstood thought leaders. Also on the river was some kind of pleasure boat commandeered and skippered by Bob Geldof, who appeared to regard the art of captaincy as consisting chiefly of flicking V-signs while bellowing into a loudhailer and saying things I imagine he thought were helping. I have an unwipeable memory of then Ukip MEP David Coburn waving a large morning glass of sauvignon blanc at Geldof. “This is what real fishermen look like!” Coburn was screaming. It is simply impossible to imagine an event more deserving of an iceberg. Literally everyone involved with it, on all sides, was Billy Zane in Titanic.

Were there signs then of where we now find ourselves? Hand on heart, there was just the vaguest sense that – with the obvious exception of the fishermen themselves – absolutely no combatant in this river battle gave a 10th of a toss about the industry they’d supposedly taken to the waters to defend. We already knew that when Nigel Farage sat on the EU’s fisheries committee, he’d attended a mere one out of 43 meetings.

I am now trying to remember whether George Eustice was onboard any of the leave boats. Certainly, all the advance publicity for the event promised he would be and some reports place him there, though I can’t recall seeing him myself. As indicated, the day developed into the sort of fever dream it would have been wise to have bailed on. Either way, Eustice had certainly just published a document in which he explained the marine case for Brexit, which he promised would make it “easier to get things done”. “In five years’ time,” he stated confidently of its effect on British fishing, “the only question we will ask ourselves is why we didn’t do it sooner.”

Mmm. Almost five years on, and George having ascended to the cabinet, is that the only question the fishing industry is asking? Negative, I’m afraid. You know things are bad because Michael Gove, who famously only went and did the Brexit to avenge his father’s fishing business, has pitched up with one of his famous analogies. “We all know that when an aeroplane takes off, that’s the point when you sometimes get that increased level of turbulence,” he breezed of a range of Brexit-engendered horror shows this week. “But then eventually you reach a cruising altitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelts off, and enjoy a gin and tonic and some peanuts. We’re not at the gin and tonic and peanuts stage yet, but I’m confident we will be.” The nice thing about cruising altitude is that you can’t see the little people having a nightmare 30,000 feet below.

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Out of sight, out of mind. As the chief executive of the Scottish food and drink federation told a parliamentary committee last week: “The biggest single challenge we have right now is denial; denial from the UK government in particular on the scale of the problem.” Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – interesting to learn that the five stages of industry manslaughter are the same as the five stages of grief.

Some Brexiteers seem further along with the process than others. Take the aforementioned Kate Hoey, who six weeks ago was standing up in the Lords to pay specific tribute to Boris Johnson’s deal but now angrily claims it betrays Northern Ireland. Kate, you may recall, refused to vote for Theresa May’s deal, which was itself constituted on the basis that an Irish Sea border was unthinkable. As May put it: “No UK prime minister could ever agree to it.” Hey – don’t put Boris Johnson in a box, because he’ll just drive a digger through that box.

And so it is that a British prime minister has since famously agreed to it, though not famously enough that his senior ministers even care to acknowledge it in public. As Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis has repeatedly put it recently: “There is no ‘Irish Sea border’.” A statement to which the only reasonable rejoinder is: there is no “Brandon Lewis”. There is no Brandon Lewis, there is no Irish Sea border, there is no barrier to trade, there is no one who cares more about the fishing industry than Michael Gove. These are certainly boom times for denial. Indeed, with government ministers shipping it out hourly, it is arguably our most thriving export.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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