SCOTTISH food and drink industry bosses are demanding action by Boris Johnson within the next 24 hours to get the blockade at the English Channel lifted.

James Withers, chief executive at Scotland Food & Drink, which represents suppliers, spoke out today after France last night banned freight into continental Europe via its ports in a bid to stop the spread to the country of a more infectious strain of the coronavirus found in the UK.

He implored the UK Government to find a way to ensure access to the critically important market for Scottish food and drink exports in the run up to Christmas is restored.

“We need the ban on freight moving across the English Channel lifted in the next 24 hours so products can start moving by Tuesday morning at the latest," said Withers.

"We have heard from companies with dozens of lorries now stuck, having travelled overnight to Dover or the Eurotunnel which are now shut to incoming traffic. They are carrying perishable products worth millions and the clock is ticking for that product to survive these delays. We estimate there will be over £5 million of Scottish food that would be been heading into France daily this week.

“The timing of this could scarcely be worse for many businesses. There are critically important markets scheduled for Wednesday in France and Spain as part of the big pre-Christmas sales rush."

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He added: "As things stand, Scottish seafood exports will not reach them, which will compound the losses businesses have already suffered as a result of Covid this year. We are also aware of some red meat shipments affected.  In addition, businesses importing ingredients and fresh products will be hugely concerned if this lasts longer than 48 hours and incoming freight is disrupted because drivers won’t risk getting stuck in the UK.

“I entirely understand the concerns of France and others about this new strain of Covid-19.  We’re all worried about it. However, France stands alone in introducing a freight ban, other EU countries have just focussed on restriction the travel of the general public. 

"We need the UK Government to urgently agree a protocol for freight movements, with perhaps the testing of drivers able to provide the necessary reassurance.

“This latest development must result in a Brexit rethink too. For two months we have been calling for a delay to new Brexit checks on exports. The UK Government has to recognise that we are in the midst of a perfect storm and to risk further disruption and financial damage to businesses in just 10 days’ time is completely unacceptable. The new checks due to come into force at the end of the transition period must now be delayed. Everything has changed.”

The National:

Scottish seafood exporters fear millions of pounds of their products will go to waste amid chaos at the Channel ports.

Withers's demands were also echoed by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO).

Tavish Scott, chief executive of SSPO outlined the imperative for the UK Government to address the situation.

“We are deeply concerned by this extremely disruptive suspension of trade routes to France.  Europe is a key market for Scottish salmon and we expect the government to explore all practical options for resuming trade, including the Covid-19 testing of drivers.

“This is the busiest week of the year with more than 150 tonnes of fresh Scottish salmon a day crossing the Channel to Europe.  Without a resumption of trade, the Scottish salmon sector could lose £6.5 million in the days before Christmas.

“Plans for Operation Brock to prioritise perishable goods must be brought into action. That could help to alleviate some of the disruption.

“Meanwhile, it is evident that the UK Government must seek an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period.  This is the only pragmatic step to take during this unprecedented turn of events with Covid-19.”

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In December around 3800 tonnes of whole, fresh/chilled salmon worth £28 million is exported to the EU

Every day more than 150 tonnes of whole, fresh Scottish salmon are en route to the EU

Export valuation of over £1.1m every day. Between now and Christmas that would be over £6.5m worth of Salmon not reaching the market.

In addition, other salmon products like fillets, sides of salmon and smoked salmon account for £10m of sales in December,  approximately £400,000 per day of sales.

According to the Scottish Government’s export figures, released last week, France remains the single largest importer of Scottish food and drink products. Exports to France for the first nine months of 2020 are already down 11.3% on the same period the previous the year.

In 2019 Scotland sold £1.2 billion of food to the EU, the majority of which went through English Channel routes facing the current blockage.

The sector is a key part of the Scottish economy worth around £14bn each year and accounts for one in five manufacturing jobs. Scotland has 18,850 food and drink businesses, which employ around 115,400 people.