The UK seafood industry appears to be moving ahead blindfolded at least in the short term as a bill to delay Brexit is signed into law by the Queen on Monday.
That's the view of Andrew Kuyk, director general of the UK Seafood Industry Alliance trade group.
"As things stand, we have no way of knowing what arrangements will apply for next year, either for catchers or traders, making it even more difficult than it already is to do the forward business essential to ensure stable supplies to the market,” Kuyk told IntraFish.
Lawmakers once again voted to delay the UK's departure from the EU for three months from Oct. 31 to avoid the possibility of Britain leaving the trade bloc without a deal.
Efforts to find a mutually acceptable deal have foundered over border arrangements between Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom and the independent Irish Republic, a staunchly pro EU member state.
The vote is seen a slap in the face for Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he appealed to lawmakers to vote down the bill.
Johnson, who visited Ireland on Monday, had said that his government was making progress in talks to reach a deal on the terms of the UK's withdrawal with the EU, and that the country needs to retain the threat of a hard, no deal Brexit to gain leverage in negotiations.
However, leaks from Whitehall sources published in the British press and statements from to EU suggest otherwise, leading those opposed to a hard Brexit to label the talks as a "sham" aimed at forcing the United Kingdom to leave the trade bloc without a deal so that Johnson can appease hardline Brexiters in the Conservative Party.
His opponents fear shortages of food, medicines, chaos at cross-channel ports and widespread economic damage without a deal being signed with the EU.
Despite the passage of legislation requiring the government to seek an extension of the current Oct. 31 deadline in order to avoid a no deal exit at that point, it is still far from clear what is going to happen, Kuyk said, adding that issues are further complicated by the UK government’s decision to withdraw from normal ongoing business in Brussels as of the beginning of September.
"This is particularly significant for fisheries as discussions begin to prepare for the December Council meeting which will decide fishing opportunities for 2020," he said.
Also complicating matters, Johnson has said that he would "rather be dead in a ditch," than take a letter stipulated under the new law to Brussels to ask for an extension.
This has fueled speculation that he might resign, find another way to push no deal through, or that a civil servant or other official representing parliament will go in his place to request an extension.
In the UK's main seafood processing hub, executives are keeping their heads down, while keeping the Halloween deadline in firmly in mind.
"We are just focusing on the eventually where we end up with a no deal," Simon Dwyer, a spokesperson for the Seafood Grimsby and Humber Cluster said in a snatched conversation.
"We can't rule anything out or anything in."