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Brexit: Why fishing is impossible to resolve unless one party backs down


THE Brexit trade talks are reported to be in their final week. Once again fishing has become the crunch issue, much to the chagrin of the remainers at the Financial Times. We are told this is the final throw of the dice as Lord Frost arrives in Brussels today for the resumption of talks with the time left to secure a deal rapidly running out. 

When I last wrote on this in TCW the two sides of the table were reported to be ‘miles apart’ on fishing. They still are. 

The British have made it clear that by no longer being a member of the EU, Britain becomes a sovereign independent nation. On numerous occasions this has been acknowledged by the EU, along with the fact that if there is no deal the EU will regard the UK as having ‘third country’ status.

That is until we come to fisheries, which the EU (especially France) treat differently.

It should be well known now that if a coastal nation joins the EU it hands the competence (control) of the conservation and management of the living marine resource over to the EU. That becomes part of the annual membership fee.

On leaving the EU and no longer a member, you don’t expect to continue paying the annual membership fee.

There are those of us in the UK who understand what that will mean to EU coastal communities: we have experienced first-hand the deterioration of our own coastal communities because of the politically motivated Common Fisheries Policy. Instead of impossible demands being made from the start, and trying to negotiate under an ultimatum, how better it would have been to lay all the cards on the table and come to an arrangement to ease the difficulties of the situation.

It has to be based on the fact the UK is in ‘control’ (holds the competence) of the UK’s 200 nautical mile or median line limit. That means it is the UK, or devolved administrations, that decides the method and management of the harvesting of the resource within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) including determining the quantities allowable to be harvested.

All vessels operating within the EEZ of the UK come under UK law.

The whole process of negotiation was shown to be off track when Michel Barnier wrote to David Frost on May 20 stating that ‘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’. In fact on fishing the EU are cherry picking and they are looking to the past. He also stated: ‘Every agreement that the EU has concluded is unique, with its own balance of rights and obligations, tailored to the partner and era in which it is concluded. There is no model, no uniform precedent to follow in EU trade policy.’

What the EU are saying is ‘Don’t compare any deal the EU have concluded in the past with what the UK want; we want the fisheries status quo.’ Unfortunately for the UK, other agreements the EU have on trade are more of a commercial enterprise, even fishery agreements, leaving the control with the other nation of an agreement and often paying substantial amounts for the short-term right to harvest given amounts. Here the agreement, pushed heavily by French President Macron, crosses the sovereignty line, as the British EEZ is part of the territory of the UK. What the EU, especially the French, are demanding, viz a slightly smaller amount of harvest than at present, means very few if any opportunities to rejuvenate our coastal communities, and fails to come anywhere near ‘taking back control’. 

Yesterday morning on the BBC1 Andrew Marr Show French representative Alexandre Holroyd and UK Environment Secretary George Eustice between themselves clearly laid out the situation. It was perfect timing.

The French, for the EU, feel the two issues of EU access to UK waters and UK access to the single market are equal sovereignty issues, and therefore they are in order to link them together. And if a deal is to be agreed it has to be long-term and determine the future UK/EU relationship.

The UK says that no other country in the world is placed in such a trade-off, and giving permanency in a treaty in order to submit to EU demands is unacceptable. Neither would the EU demands tie into present EU regulations regarding third country status.

It is extremely difficult to see how the divide can be bridged. Surely these long drawn-out negotiations will terminate in the next day or two, so we know where we stand and proceed to the next stage of regaining national control.

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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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