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Fishing and the big question for party leaders


THE fishing issue has always been clear-cut, and how a political party answers certain questions is a clear indication of its underlying intentions.

The Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist Parties’ position is already clear. They will continue to give away full control (competency) of the living marine resources in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to the detriment of our coastal communities and the UK in general.

Whether fishing will even feature in Labour’s ‘your choice is between remain and remain’ election manifesto is yet to be seen.

That of the Conservatives also needs clarity. Nigel Farage has warned that under Boris’s deal fisheries are set to remain open to EU boats and that the Common Fisheries Policy will continue to operate during the extendable transition period – that means up until the end of 2022. Yesterday at his Brexit Party election campaign launch he wondered if Boris had actually read this part of his deal.

There is no need for this, or for the Conservatives to lose seats in Scotland. A clear-cut position on fisheries could gain them seats there. They should know that every word they utter or write on fisheries will be analysed, and the slightest hint of backtracking, or fudging, then they might as well throw in the towel now. And not just in Scotland, but in many coastal constituencies.

There are several ways Brexit can be achieved; some are more convincing than others. But whichever it is, there is one issue that all will have to face. When it comes to negotiating the future trade deal with the European Union, the EU have made very clear their demand for access to UK fishing waters along similar lines as present. That’s despite the fact that the EU have no legal right to make such a demand, and this is pure bully-boy tactics.

How the political parties and candidates answer respond to this question is the litmus test.

Question: The European Union have made it very clear that a trade deal between the UK and EU will have to include access to UK fishing waters for EU vessels. What is your, and your party’s position on this?

They have a problem unless they answer thus, or along these lines at least:

‘On the day of leaving the EU, control (or competency) of our fishing Exclusive Economic Zone is returned to Westminster for the UK to operate under the guidelines of international law for the benefit of the UK. I/We will not use fisheries access as a barter for a trade deal.’

They could elaborate further if they wished:

‘We will co-operate with our neighbours and, like most coastal states, negotiate reciprocal arrangements based on an equal value swap; we will not be able to exclude every EU vessel from day one, as international law recommends a coastal state should minimise economic dislocation, therefore it is possible we would have to offer a transitional five-year period, decreasing equally annually.’

If, however, we get an answer as per the Conservative 2017 election manifesto it won’t cut the mustard. To those who did not examine it at the time it sounds superficially persuasive. Readers, can you spot the danger areas before moving on to the explanation?

2017 Manifesto: Our coastal communities. Decades of profound economic change have left their mark on coastal communities around Britain. We will continue to work to ensure these communities enjoy the vitality and opportunity they deserve. In England, we will extend our successful Coastal Communities Fund to 2022, helping our seaside towns thrive. When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control. A new Conservative government will work with the fishing industry and with our world-class marine scientists, as well as the devolved administrations, to introduce a new regime for commercial fishing that will preserve and increase fish stocks and help to ensure prosperity for a new generation of fishermen. To provide complete legal certainty to our neighbours and clarity during our negotiations with the European Union, we will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention. We will continue our work to conserve the marine environment off the coast of the United Kingdom.

If you spotted the flaw in this statement you have done well, as it is not easy.

First, at the start, where the Coastal Communities Fund is mentioned we need to ask why was this fund required in the first place? In short because so much of our coastal resource has been given away depriving those communities of their livelihood and billions of pounds.

Second, at the end there is reference to ‘the marine environment off the coast of the UK’. The word ‘off’ sounds like a few miles, not 200 nautical miles.

But the real problem comes in the middle:

‘We will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.’

The truth is that we have never exercised control over our EEZ of 200 nautical miles/median line zone, only our territorial sea of 12 nautical miles.

Whether it was intended or not, the fisheries 2017 manifesto suggests that only the 12 nautical mile zone was coming back.

The 2019 manifesto must not make this mistake. In any forthcoming EU treaty there must not be any form of long-term continuity rights given to the EU.

Can any of the party leaders answer the big question? If there is any wobble, any giving way on fisheries, by party or individual MP, you know that Brexit will not be happening.

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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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