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HomeBrexit WatchBad faith over fisheries is all on the EU’s side

Bad faith over fisheries is all on the EU’s side


AFTER all the accusations against the UK over breaking treaties, all and sundry have come out of the woodwork to have their say, and yet no one states what is happening in the EU/UK fisheries negotiations.

In 2014 the Government published the Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union Fisheries Report.

It states: ‘United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the main international agreement governing the world’s oceans and seas. It gives legal recognition to the right of a coastal State to jurisdiction over its EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone]. The coastal State has the right to exploit, develop, manage and conserve all the resources (such as fish, oil and gas and minerals) which are found in the waters of the EEZ, and on the ocean floor and in the subsoil of their continental shelves. The Convention also establishes the International Tribunal of the Sea as a forum for resolution of maritime disputes between States. The EU and all its Member States are Parties to UNCLOS. In matters relating to the conservation of marine biological resources, where the EU has exclusive competence, the EU exercises the voting rights on behalf of the Member States.’

What the Government didn’t say was the EU can be party to UNCLOS only if it can prove that Member States have handed over the competence, since the EU is not a State.

On joining the EEC in 1973, the UK’s waters become EU waters. On leaving the EU, competences are returned to Westminster, and our Government is in full control, under international law, to fulfil what is laid out in UNCLOS.

So how have the negotiations progressed?

April 24, 2020 From Michel Barnier’s press release after the second round of negotiation: ‘The UK chose to be a third country. As a consequence, it will not be treated as a Member State. We must take this fact as our starting point.’

To be a third country means not being a member of the EU. How the EU deals with fisheries with third countries is established within its own main fisheries regulation 1380/13. This is not happening because the EU is  using the basis of a trade deal conditional on access to our fishing waters, thereby breaking their own rules, and worse, expecting the UK to break international law.

May 20 Barnier wrote to British negotiator David Frost: ‘Just as we do not accept selective benefits in the Single Market without the corresponding obligations, we also do not accept cherry-picking from our past agreements. The EU is looking to the future, not to the past, in these negotiations.’

On fisheries, the EU are cherry-picking from the past, and the EU future is based on the past of access to the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone for the living marine resource.

June 8 Giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee Future Relationship with the EU, Barnier stated: ‘We have two contradictory positions, really. The European Union says, “Status quo; no change” and the British side says, “Let’s change everything”. If we remain entrenched in that way, there will be no discussion on fisheries.’

 To keep the status quo would result in the UK breaking international law (because the competency is no longer with the EU but at Westminster). It is not the case that the UK expects to changing everything, as the UK is following the treaty Law.

July 23 From Barnier’s press statement after round 6 of negotiation: ‘On the two points I mentioned – the level playing field and fisheries – this week again, the UK did not show a willingness to break the deadlock.’

The deadlock of what? Not complying with international law and continuing the status quo?

August 21 A senior UK negotiating official said: ‘It is frustrating that they want us to move towards their position on fishing and state aid before doing anything else.’

The whole purpose of leaving the EU is that competences are returned to Westminster. That results in the UK Government being responsible under international law for the UK’s EEZ under the guidelines of UNCLOS.

September 14 Second Reading of the Internal Market Bill; 263 MPs voted against, mainly over International treaty law.

Where do these 263 stand on fisheries? It is no good shouting foul when you foul yourself, or expect others to foul on your behalf.

The EU expects the UK to capitulate, but it also understands that with no agreement, from January 2021 EU fishing vessels will be in for a very long tie-up, and no one can be blamed for that situation but itself. As Barnier keeps telling us – the clock is ticking.

Barnier in his letter of 20 May 2020 to Frost made it very clear, the EU in these negotiations is looking to the future, not to the past. The past is where the UK was an EU member and where successive UK governments handed competences to the EU. The future (and present) is that the UK is no longer a member of the EU, and all competences are handed back to Westminster. 

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John Ashworth
John Ashworth
John Ashworth has worked all his life in the Fishing Industry, as a gear designer and manufacturer. He spent 20 years working on fishing vessels around the world, and promoted environmental issues, He led the Save Britain's Fish campaign through the nineties and early twenties and is now part of Fishing for Leave.

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