The UK government has privately accepted the EU’s ban on British shellfish exports is justified, despite publicly declaring otherwise.
Environment secretary George Eustice this week wrote to the EU Commissioner for food safety Stella Kyriakides to say that the ban – which applies to oysters, mussels, scallops, cockles and clams – was “legally wrong” and “unjustified”.
However, Politics Home reports that the Shellfish Association of Great Britain were told privately by Eustice’s department that the ban was correct.
A letter from the lobby group to its members said: “All along [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] have told us that they believe the trade in class B animals is legal and that the regulation supports this. They have now changed this position.
“They now say that they believe on balance that the EU view, that the trade is not legal, is in fact correct. This is in complete contrast to everything they have told us so far”.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We continue to believe that our interpretation of the law and the EU’s original interpretation is correct and that the trade should be able to continue for all relevant molluscs from April.
“And there is no reason for a gap at all for molluscs from aquaculture.”
Brussels confirmed recently that a temporary ban on many types of shellfish being exported from the UK to EU would be permanent, putting many British companies at risk.
British fishermen produce more than 25,000 tonnes of mussels each year, with around two-thirds sold to EU countries.
EU rules mandate that some types of shellfish that are imported into the bloc must either come from unpolluted waters or be purified before being sold.
UK waters do not fall into this category and most exporters used to send their produce to EU countries to get purified.
It is not cost effective to purify shellfish in the UK and sell onto the EU as the process significantly shortens the shelf life of the product.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove yesterday said there had been some turbulence in the post-Brexit UK-EU relationship, but that it would soon abate.
“You sometimes get that increased level of turbulence, but then eventually you reach a cruising altitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelts off and enjoy a gin and tonic and some peanuts,” Gove said.
“We’re not at the gin and tonic and peanuts stage yet, but I’m confident we will be.”