Britain Warns EU of Coming ‘Water Wars’ Over Blockade of UK Shellfish

TARBERT, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 13: Fishing boats are seen at Tarbert Harbour on January 13, 2021 in Tarbert, Scotland. The Scottish Fishing industry says it is losing £1 million per day post-Brexit as EU customers are cancelling orders. Hauliers are refusing to take multi-product loads to Europe where they have …
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The British government is reportedly preparing to launch a series of tit-for-tat trade restrictions with the European Union dubbed the “Water Wars” in response to the bloc’s ban of shellfish from the UK.

The government is said to be considering placing import restrictions on European products such as mineral water and seed potatoes. The EU had previously secured a continuity agreement for the import of seed potatoes to the UK until the end of June, however, this agreement may be scrapped if Brussels refuses to budge on the seafood restrictions.

A government source told The Telegraph: “There is thought being given to where we can leverage in other areas. We have continuity arrangements… we can stop these which means they won’t be able to sell their produce here.”

The paper claimed that discussions within the government over banning EU products began earlier this month following the European Commission’s announcement of a permanent blockade of British shellfish, including live oysters, scallops, mussels, citing supposed public health concerns.

The EU has said that seafood caught in Class B waters could still be sent to Europe if the catch is purified, however, industry experts have warned that the extra costs would severely damage the sector.

Tensions apparently escalated following the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety refused to meet with UK Environment Secretary George Eustice to discuss an end to the ban on British shellfish, which reportedly angered Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A European Commission spokesman said: “Import into the EU of live bivalve molluscs for human consumption is allowed only if they originate from classified areas A and meet all the health and sanitary requirements for molluscs destined for immediate human consumption.

“Consequently, live bivalve molluscs originating from third countries from production areas classified as B or C cannot be imported into the Union as they do not meet these health requirements. This also applies to the UK, now a third country.

However, the British government has highlighted an email from the EU Commission in 2019, which promised that live shellfish would be able to continue being exported to the EU after Brexit.

Aside from contemplating the introduction of import restrictions on EU products, the government has also announced that it will expand the eligibility of the £23 million support package for the fishing sector, in order to help fishermen and shellfish exporters who were negatively impacted by the EU Commission.

George Eustice said: “The UK fishing industry produces some of the finest seafood in Europe from the waters around our coast.

“By supporting the sector through some of the current challenges we will ensure they are well placed to recover once the world turns the corner on this pandemic and emerges from lockdown.”

Some have accused the European Union of U-turning on the issue of shellfish imports as an act of revenge for Brexit and for the embarrassment over ‘Speedboat Britain‘ outperforming the EU in terms of vaccinating people for the Chinese coronavirus.

A senior minister told The Mail on Sunday: “This is end- of-empire stuff. They are trying to punish us for daring to become a nation-state and dread us succeeding on our own in case it encourages others to follow suit. The triumph of our vaccine programme has led to this petty revenge.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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