A row over the EU’s ban on live British shellfish escalated on Friday as new documents emerged which ministers say prove Brussels had previously agreed the trade could continue.
The Telegraph has obtained correspondence between Whitehall officials and the European Commission, which appears to show it previously advised that the export of live molluscs from Britain was still possible after Brexit.
The ban affects unpurified oysters, clams, cockles, mussels and scallops, both wild and farmed, which are sourced from the UK’s class B waters, which account for the vast majority of the trade.
It comes as Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure from Tory MPs to impose retaliatory measures on the EU over the ban, which the Environment Secretary George Eustice has described as “indefensible.”
Sheryll Murray, the MP for South East Cornwall, has asked the Prime Minister this week to meet a delegation of coastal MPs to discuss the financial harm being caused to local fishermen.
The Government is now considering a number of options, including whether the approval of fishing licences to EU vessels seeking access to the UK’s six to 12 mile nautical zone can be slowed down.
According to documents laid in the House of Commons Library on Friday, a senior official in Brussels emailed the UK’s chief veterinary officer on 27 September 2019 regarding the UK’s proposal to use a certain type of export health certificate after it left the EU.
The reply stated: “LBMs [live bivalve molluscs] exported to the EU for purification, can be certified with the model set out in Part A of Annex IV to the Commission Regulation No 1251/2008.”
In a briefing note attached to the documents, the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) stated: “The reply endorsed Defra’s view and agreed that the appropriate certificate was the one Defra officials had suggested.
“This exchange therefore corroborated for Defra that the trade could continue following the end of the transition period.”
Defra later told fishermen there would need to be a short pause after Brexit for the export of wild molluscs, until a new EU import certificate was brought online in April this year. It believed that from January 1, the export of farmed molluscs could continue as before.
However, two weeks ago, the Commission unexpectedly told the British shellfish industry that the ban on both farmed and wild molluscs would become permanent because the UK is subject to rules governing third countries.
The decision means fishermen across the UK now face having to purify their catch domestically, adding significant costs and delays and leaving many businesses facing ruin.
The EU now argues that the certificate cited provides only “animal health guarantees” and “cannot be used to provide public health assurances”. On Monday, it wrote again to the UK’s chief veterinary officer to “further specify” the conditions around exporting the shellfish.
Speaking to The Telegraph earlier this week, an EU official said: “The rules in this area have not changed. They have applied, and continue to do so, to all third countries.
“The Commission has informed the UK Chief Veterinary Officer and the British shellfish industry that such requirements are not temporary and are now applicable to all shellfish imported from the UK as a direct consequence of Brexit.
“This is not new and it is not a surprise to the UK administration.”