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Mon 25 October 2021

Local officials are considering breaking ranks with the UK Government and asking the EU for help, reports David Hencke

The main export of the Falkland Islands economy, the Loligo squid – which is processed into more familiar calamari for millions of EU customers – has become a casualty of Brexit.

Unlike the row over UK fishing waters, British negotiators failed to even entertain the rights of Falkland Islands fishermen when the EU refused to discuss tariff-free trade for any of Britain’s overseas territories.

As a result, from 1 January, the EU imposed swingeing food tariffs on all products produced by British overseas territories. They range from 6-18% on fish to 42% on lamb.

The damage is most severely being felt on the Falklands – the island that Margaret Thatcher aggressively reclaimed after Argentina invaded it in the 1980s. The island has since been a totemic cause for successive Conservative governments.

However, this sentimentality was not seen during Brexit negotiations. A 6% tariff has now been imposed on the Loligo squid and tariffs of up to 18% on bigger fish caught in the south-Atlantic. The squid accounts for more than half of the island’s exports, which are caught by state-of-the-art fishing boats in a joint enterprise with Spain and processed in Vigo, north-west Spain, before being distributed across the Mediterranean.

“For a country the size of the Falkland Islands the impact on our local economy and Government revenue will be significant,” Teslyn Barkman, a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, told Byline Times. “As an example, our fishing industry has been quite clear that, in certain years, as a result of the imposition of tariffs, some vessels will be forced into a loss-making position.

“It is particularly challenging because, not only is the impact of tariffs immediate, they are being imposed on us whilst we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a significant impact on the Falkland Islands’ economy and society, particularly our tourism sector.”

Barkman said that the 42% tariff on Falklands lamb – there are 500,000 sheep on the island, compared to a human population of roughly 3,000 – has completely killed its EU market, causing hardship for farmers. The UK has said that the farmers could export their lamb to the UK tariff-free – but there are concerns that it could not compete with home-grown Welsh and Scottish lamb.

Barkman pointed out that the Islanders are not able to negotiate directly with the EU, as the UK handles its foreign affairs – but that many are now tempted to ask Spain to intervene, particularly as processing workers in Vigo could lose their jobs if exports from the Falklands are cut.

The cause of the Falkland Islanders and other British overseas territories has been taken up by Charles Hay, the Earl of Kinnoull, chair of the House of Lords EU Committee. He has asked for a full explanation from Foreign Office Minister Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad. In a letter to him, he asked:

“How and when will you raise the Falkland Islands’ specific concerns with the EU? How will you support the Falkland Islands Government in ensuring the continued sustainability of its fisheries industry in the context of such a significant challenge? In view of the close economic and trading ties between the Falkland Islands’ and Spanish fishing industries, what dialogue have you had with the Spanish Government about these issues, and any steps that it could take to mitigate the economic impact of the imposition of tariffs and quotas?”

Hay has also asked the Foreign Office to explain exactly why the EU said it had no competence or mandate to discuss the fate of British overseas territories – and how the UK Government responded.

Pointedly, he has asked the Government to further explain why a decision hasn’t yet been made on the amount of money it needs to spend in overseas territories to replace the loss of EU infrastructure funding.

One expects that these questions will provoke many awkward conversations in Whitehall.

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