The fisheries minister has raised eyebrows by disclosing she was busy organising a nativity trail on Christmas Eve when the Brexit deal was agreed, and didn’t read its fine print on fish.
Victoria Prentis insisted that the agreement was beneficial for UK boats when she appeared before the Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee on Wednesday, but conceded some quarters of the fishing industry had been hard done by.
The admission she had not filleted the details of the deal straight away was extracted when asked by Lord Teverson, the Lib Dem chairman of the committee: “Did your jaw drop as well when you saw this agreement that had been delivered in fisheries, when really this is such an iconic subject?”
Ms Prentis replied: “No, the agreement came when we were all very busy on Christmas Eve; in my case organising the local nativity trail. We’d been waiting and waiting. It looked like it was coming for probably four days before it actually arrived.”
Her disclosure sparked a backlash among opposition MPs. Scottish Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael told The Daily Record: “It is clear that the fisheries minister was not brought into discussions on the deal until after the event.
“Surely she could have taken a little time away from the festivities to look after her own departmental responsibilities?”.
It came as British seafood exporters continue to battle disruptions that began when the Brexit transition period ended on December 31.
Companies have reported having to delay and cancel shipments to the continent owing to problems gaining the requisite approvals at EU ports. Scottish firms have been among the worst hit.
Boris Johnson on Wednesday promised to compensate Scottish fishermen as he said there were “teething problems” with the new post-Brexit arrangements.
He said he understood the reaction of the fishing community and pledged it would be a “temporary frustration”, but insisted the deal presented “a massive opportunity for Scotland and the whole of the UK with the increase in [fish] quotas”.
Under the terms of the deal, 25 per cent of the value of EU boats’ catch in UK waters will be transferred to the UK fishing fleet over a period of five and a half years.
Mr Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, hit out at the “week of intensifying disruption for seafood exporters” and predicted the deal would entail “long-term challenges” for British fishermen.
He has secured an urgent question in the Commons on the issue on Thursday.
The Scottish Nationalist Party demanded Ms Prentis resign. Philippa Whitford, the SNP’s Brexit spokesman, said: “For the Tory Government’s fisheries minister to admit that she did not even bother to read the details of the damaging deal because she was too busy is unbelievable, and makes her position untenable.”
However, Downing Street said the fisheries minister retained the full confidence of the Prime Minister.