People making FOI requests are sometimes accused of embarking on a ‘fishing expedition’ — looking for news stories without a clear idea of what they will dredge up — but a recent request on WhatDoTheyKnow asked for something very specific.
“Could you state”, it asked, “the number of passports issued to British fish since Brexit proper began on 1st Jan 2021?”.
This request was not as fishy as it might at first appear: it was based on a statement in Parliament. On 14 January, commenting on Brexit and its impact on the fishing industry, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg said:
“The key is that we have our fish back: they are now British fish, and they are better and happier fish for it.”
Ordinarily, we discourage what might be seen as frivolous use of FOI via our site, but as it happens this request was processed by the authority without complaint. They replied in a straightfaced manner:
“Her Majesty’s Passport Office does not hold the information which you have requested. Animal classification is not captured as part of the passport application process.”
While this might not have been exemplary use of our service, citizens have the right to make requests that clarify puzzling statements from our elected representatives, or to simply highlight that they are incomprehensible.
One of the team says, “It’s understandable that the public might ponder, ‘what did he really mean?’ It could be something of a floccinaucinihilipilification, but it might also relate to a ‘catch certificate’, or one of the many other new items of bureaucracy that have appeared in recent months.”
Another WhatDoTheyKnow team member added, “My reading of that response is that the Government aren’t sure that everyone with a British passport is actually human… and some proportion might well in fact be fish.”
We, however, think that’s something of a red herring, and we’d advise that anyone seriously wanting to surface information about piscine issues might have more luck sending a request to DEFRA, CEFAS, or the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
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Image: Fredrik Öhlander