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Wanted: Small island seeks easy trading partners

The UK's split from the European Union poses some disturbing realities for the country's seafood trade.

Like the embittered child of divorcing parents, it is with a sort of helpless anger that I watch the UK stumble blindly towards the cliff edge of Brexit.

No-one knows how high the cliff is, but I am fairly certain that everyone now realizes it to be a cliff, rather than a mere step into pastures new.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s expectations seem to be high, but I suspect her Thatcher-esque veneer masks the terrible knowledge of the irreversible damage she has unleashed at the supposed "will of the people."

You just have to watch the increasing desperation with which UK ministers attempt new trade partnerships, traveling farther and farther afield, hastening oily handshakes and painted on smiles to forge whatever weak union they can.

Human rights violations? No problem! Wanna buy some computers?

You’ll charge us extortionate import taxes? Oh well… fancy a drop or two of oil?

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The United States was of course always the failsafe fallback. Our "special relationship" was going to bolster our economy in lieu of European divorce. No-one seemed to listen when the president at the time, Barack Obama, set us straight on that assumption.

And any chance the US may have softened its stance was shot in the head and trampled on as soon as The Blonde Bombshell entered the White House, despite all May’s unctuous fawning.

The EU is of course still a potential market, but any hopes of grasping a few morsels there fades with every negotiation update. It seems that, despite our newly needy status, our representatives see fit to carry on wielding their imperious demands.

It’s like trying to continue to be the school bully after everyone finds out you wet the bed. You were always pretty unpopular, but now that everyone knows your weaknesses, you’re pathetic too.

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And just to turn the screw a little harder, Scotland is once again on the brink of a referendum to become independent, so actually, that oil you were considering, Duterte? Forget it. It’s gone.

Simultaneously the sections of society so emboldened by the leave campaign and its pie-in-the-sky rhetoric are suddenly quieter, murmuring concerns around trade and employment and what this actually means for them.

The fishing industry is one of those sectors. And I’m sorry, but I struggle to have sympathy.

As much as I try to understand the motivation to believe Nigel Farage and his pack of lies, I’m afraid the base of bigotry and misplaced nationalism that he built them on and people rallied behind him on, leaves an incredibly bitter taste in my mouth.

My one thin shred of understanding is perhaps frustration at the bureaucracy of the European Union and its one size fits all model. The UK fishing sector must be a tough place to work. It is an industry in decline and to come up against a wall of regulation that scuppers your possibilities to earn a living, to feed your family must grind you down.

I get that. But to put those fears into the basket of a scaremongering right-wing nationalist, to sell low-cost to exactly the people that brought down such industries in the first place? That, I don’t understand.

I imagined the UK fishing industry smiling at the latest news that Europeans are concerned the UK will claim its turf in the North Sea after it leaves the Union. But extended fishing grounds aren’t going to mean a lot when your domestic market has no desire/is too skint to buy your fish, your processor has gone bust because it has no migrant workers to do the work, and you have no access to the markets on your doorstep.

It is worth noting that 75 percent of the fish caught in the UK is exported, most of that to the European Union, while the majority of fish eaten in the UK is imported.

It is also worth noting that 42 percent of the UK’s processing workforce is made up of migrant labor, largely from the EU.

It is, in parallel, no big surprise to know that several parts of Britain that voted to leave the EU are among the most vulnerable to the economic impact of Brexit. Amongst them, Yorkshire and Humberside, the home of the UK’s fish processing industry, which voted 55 percent in favor of European exit.

The solution? Who knows. I’m fairly sure no-one who voted for Brexit has it. And the rest of us are too in shock to conjure up any ideas.

All we can hope at this point is that we can wrangle some generosity from our European neighbors or strike a deal with a new and as yet undiscovered trade partner. Either that or we could enter a darkened room and never come out… oh, wait…

Comments? Contact rachel.mutter@intrafish.com

Twitter: @rachelintrafish

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