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SIC forms Brexit group

SHETLAND Islands Council has begun forming a Brexit ‘sounding board’ to ensure the isles’ interests are represented as the UK begins to negotiate its exit from the EU.

The group will feature development committee councillors and SIC officials, while representatives from industries such as fishing and agriculture will attend meetings.

Councillors Andrea Manson, Mark Burgess and Allison Duncan were appointed to the sounding board at Monday’s meeting of the SIC’s development committee.

Development director Neil Grant told members that the group will enable Shetland to “keep abreast” of how Brexit negotiations are going, to lobby and to take decisions relating to local issues.

Its includes “identifying effective methods of representing Shetland’s economic interests to the Scottish and UK Governments and the EU” and seeking to secure “island specific support measures” as the UK discusses post-Brexit regional policy.

Over 56 per cent of Shetland voted last year to stay in the EU, although those involved in the fishing industry were largely in favour of leaving to escape the much-criticised Common Fisheries Policy.

There also remains uncertainty over how EU subsidies for farmers and crofters will be paid in the future.

Shetland South member George Smith, who is not a member of the development committee, told the meeting that he felt the sounding board should be open to more councillors.

Vice chairman Stephen Leask said the sounding board is something “we need to get up and running quite quickly”, with the UK supposed to start exit negotiations with the EU next week.

Chairman Alastair Cooper said Brexit will “affect us all one way or another” and agreeing with Smith, he added that the sounding board should be a “fluid” entity which should have a wider remit when it comes to personnel.

The Shetland North member said he does not want it to be just a “squad of councillors”.

Duncan, who is crofter, took the opportunity to praise the level of grant money the SIC’s development team has given the industries over the years.

He added that efforts need to be made to ensure that Shetland’s “voice is heard” – whether that is in “Edinburgh, London or Brussels”.

Peter Campbell pointed out that the SIC has a number of investments which could be “seriously affected” by the effects of Brexit, including in fishing.

Political leader Cecil Smith said Monday’s publication of the Scottish Government’s Islands Bill “strengthens our end even more”.

He added that the Our Islands Our Future initiative, which was championed by former leader Gary Robinson, should be used to help reinforce Shetland’s position.

Cooper said after the meeting that Shetland “needs to be ready” for Brexit, especially considering its uncertain make-up.

“I think it’s quite important for Shetland to be seen participating in discussion with the Scottish Government, the UK government and Europe, and participating knowledgeably,” he said.

“In order to do it knowledgeably, we have to be speaking to everybody – industry, community planning and partners – to make sure we have a consistent message.

“You can’t have the fishermen going away to Brussels and saying one thing and then our leader going to Edinburgh or Brussels and not carrying the same story.

“We have to be seen to be staying together at this point, and not in division.”