I HAD hoped that by now I could have closed the book on Brexit and enjoy doing something different after a near half century of studying EU treaties, regulations and directives.
Alas, for those holding a fishing interest, the job is far from finished. What happened in the last 24 hours of negotiation, I don’t know, except our Prime Minister accepted the one issue we advised against – yes, by all means have a transitional period, but it must in the treaty have a clear final termination position, not kick the can down the road to be in the same position after the transition period as now. The result is an industry that has little confidence for the future, which will not be won over with £100million thrown at it, because the ‘fishing Industry’ is not a single entity, but made up of several different sectors, not always with the same objectives.
It is unfortunate that the poor opinion of Parliament unfairly contaminates all the MPs therein, because there are some for whom I have a high regard. Two, of different political parties, are Environment Secretary George Eustice and the LibDem MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael.
On January 14 under an urgent question Alistair Carmichael asked:
‘To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the consequences of the EU trade and co-operation agreement as it applies to the fishing industry.’
George Eustice’s reply including the following: ‘After the five-and-a-half-year agreement, we are able to change access and sharing arrangements further. The EU, for its part, will also be able to apply tariffs on fish exports in proportion to any withdrawal of access.’
Carmichael continued: ‘What will happen at the end of a five-and-a-half year transition period? A transition normally takes us from point A to point B. This transition takes us from point A to point A with a new negotiation.’
Eustice replied: ‘The Rt Hon gentleman asked what happens after five and a half years. As I said in my opening statement, after that period, we are free to change access arrangements and change sharing arrangements, and we will do so.’
Therein lies the problem: does anyone in the industry believe they ‘will do so’? If they did, the EU could apply tariffs. To establish belief there have to be changes during these five years.
However disappointed one is over the fisheries agreement, and I am deeply disappointed, there are parts that give tremendous opportunities for the future. It will require hard work, and the support and effort of Parliamentarians such as Eustice and Carmichael. I, too, must pick myself up off the floor, help UK plc become a success, and fishing will just take a little longer.
The withdrawal agreement that was agreed by Parliament in January last year established the United Kingdom as an independent coastal state. The Trade and Co-operation agreement confirmed that to be the case. One could be cynical and say ‘so what’, but it could turn out to be very useful . . .
It means that over the course of last year the UK took our independent seat at the regional fisheries management organisations, and allowed the UK to develop new bilateral arrangements with our other north-east Atlantic neighbours, including the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland, and a partnership agreement with Norway.
The key to the future of the Trade Agreement is that it affirms the sovereignty rights of the coastal State exercised by the parties for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living resources in their waters should be conducted pursuant to and in accordance with the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982.
This is our old friend UNCLOS3, which the UK is party to in its own right, as I think are all the 27 EU Member states, but as they have given the exclusive competence of conserving and management to the EU, it is Brussels that represents the 27 as a whole. As the EU is not a state, arrangements within UNCLOS had to be made to accommodate the EU. Not all 27 members are involved in fish, but will be caught up with the results and consequences of negotiations in five years.
Fishing once again has been the sacrificial lamb, and the price of a deal has to be paid by our coastal communities. It is important to know every sentence and word in UNCLOS3, so we don’t fritter away the next five years. We must plan ahead giving youngsters confidence to enter an industry that even now has a future if UK governments carry out their international and environmental obligations. We, the British public, must make it happen, otherwise we will not get our country fully back.