WITH just weeks to go until the end of the Brexit transition period, it is still unknown on which terms the UK will be trading with the European Union next year.

Talks on a future deal were declared “over” on Friday by Downing Street, with Boris Johnson calling on Britain to prepare for a No-Deal Brexit.

While the political drama rumbles on, the impact on real lives is continuing.

Among the key industries in Scotland which are expected to be impacted by Brexit is the agriculture and food and drink sectors. However businesses and producers say they have found it impossible to prepare for the future.

Jamie McMillan, managing director of Loch Fyne Seafarms Ltd, which is based in Tarbert and exports live shellfish internationally, fears Brexit could have a disastrous impact on his business, particularly in the wake of the Covid pandemic which has already led to an “extremely difficult” market.

“It’s either going to go two ways – if there is going to be access to the market there will be no problem,” he said.

“But if there is no access to the markets through the ferries or Channel tunnel then Europe effectively is closed. If exporters don’t get the access to the market then it is just going to be an absolute disaster.

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“We’re nearly into November now, eight weeks to go and you are meant to prepare.”

But McMillan said one major concern – which is still unknown – was how much an export certificate for trading with the EU could potentially cost.

“Effectively if the cost is the same as exporting outside the EU – £94.75 – then I will close the doors on December 31 as my business will not be viable,” he said.

“We serve up to 20 different customers a day – so that if it’s going to be £94.75, it is nearly £2000 and that is just not viable.

“Times are harder every single year and this year has just been a case of survival. Brexit will be the final nail in the coffin if it doesn’t go the way we need it to go.”

Maimie Paterson, vice-chair of the National Sheep Association Scotland, pointed out much of the sheep farming business depends on export trade.

“If there is No Deal, it’s a given it will affect the exports,” she said.

“What we as firms want to know is how is the UK Government going to soften the blow for us? If export trade is interrupted at all, the price of lamb is going to crash.

“There’s really nothing we can do to prepare until we know what’s

going to happen in terms of a deal.

“If there is a deal, it will be easier to get beef and lamb into Europe.”

She said her biggest fear would be a No-Deal Brexit leading to high tariffs on lamb exports.

“The tariffs would be the killer – it would be detrimental to the industry and have a huge negative effect,” she said.

“It would raise the price of lamb in Europe and could put it beyond the reach of people who are currently buying lamb just now.

“The best-case scenario would be a deal to allow exports to continue pretty much at the same level, with minimum tariffs or no tariffs.”

She added: “It’s the lack of communication on this particular aspect of Brexit. Our fate is in the hands of other people.”

Colin Ferguson, who is a dairy farmer from the Machars Peninsula in south-west Scotland and the NFUS regional chair for Dumfries & Galloway, has been trying to prepare for Brexit for the last three years.

He said: “We’ve bought another farm and set up a second dairy unit, which has given us a bit of protection and scale. We supply Arla, Europe’s biggest dairy co-operative, so we’re tied to the EU, but it’s one of the best milk contracts to be on at the current time. That’s given us a lot of confidence with Brexit coming.”

But he said the impact on the farm would depend on the outcome of any Brexit deal.

“I think we should be leaving with some degree of a deal with Europe, without a doubt,” he said.

“Short term, a No Deal could have some positive impact on milk price, but long term, if you look at wider agriculture like sheep and beef I think it will have a negative effect.

“Regardless of what sector you’re in in Scotland, we all run as one giant business. If something is badly effected somewhere, it will impact us eventually down the line.”

He said he had received more information on preparing for Brexit from his milk company than the UK Government.

He added: “If you’re waiting for answers from them, you’ve probably missed the boat. You’re better just to make a decision, go for it and take a risk.

“I think we will see change, and change brings opportunity.”

Brexit has been hailed by some as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to claim back fishing rights.

But it’s not a view shared by all in the industry. Elaine Whyte, executive secretary of Clyde Fishermen’s Association, which supports fishing vessels operating around the West of Scotland, said while it’s a politically neutral organisation, it has concerns about Brexit.

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She said existing issues such as difficulties in recruiting crew due to depopulation and rules on hiring non-EEA nationals, a lack of infrastructure in ports and reductions in domestic quotas meant things had been “pretty bad for a long time”.

“In terms of what Brexit will mean in respect to tariffs and barriers, we don’t feel confident,” she said.

“Of course if there was one good thing to come out of Brexit, it’s that people are discussing what might happen with additional shares if there is more quota that comes in, but we don’t even know how that will be shared.

“If it does come and if it is of any benefit, it could take a long time to be realised.

“My concern is we might not have a fleet by that time, we might not have any fishermen to benefit from any potential win that could have happened as there is very little resilience in inshore communities at the moment.”

Martin Morgan, executive manager of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said after years of the benefits of “frictionless trade” with the EU, exporters are now facing the prospect of lorries being stopped for inspections in mainland Europe – but it is not known what impact these will have.

“They will do physical checks, they will do documentary checks. This could take five minutes or it could take five hours – we just don’t know,” he said. On top of that there’s the issue of whether we’ll be subject to tariffs or quotas. We don’t know that either yet. It’s exceedingly difficult if not nigh well impossible for members to try plan ahead with any certainty.”

HE added: “It deeply disappointing the needs of industry don’t seem to have been listened to. Worst-case scenario would be the much-talked-about No Deal and that would mean tariffs and quotas and long delays at border inspection posts without a doubt.

“That would be a catastrophe at least in the short term for the industry. Our best hope is it will be a short-term disruption and things will settle down within a few weeks or a month – but it could be much longer term.”

Colin Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association, the trade association for Scotland’s food and drink wholesale sector, warned there will be supply chain disruption, with one scenario that flow rates of goods through Dover will be 45% of current volumes.

“If you are talking about fresh produce, which a lot of it is for our wholesalers, that means that if they will be able to bring in less,” he said.

“But also if it is sitting at Dover down at ports to come in to customs for two days, that lettuce or tomato or cucumber from Holland isn’t ever going to reach Scotland never mind the Highland and Islands.

“It will get dumped in England, rather than spending another day in a truck just to come here and go out of date. Food security is a big issue and it is our members that are supplying the care homes, schools, hospitals and prisons.”