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In seven questions and answers, how ministers lost the people’s trust


GIVING evidence on Brexit to a House of Lords select committee under the chairmanship of Lord Teverson on January 13, 2021, Fisheries Minister Victoria Prentis said:

‘I am a passionate believer in having a deal. I think the deal is a good one for the UK. In fisheries terms, it is true to say that we had, as an industry, dreamed some pretty big dreams, not least in the last four and a half years, but for much longer in some cases.’ 

Really? So what did her boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice, say? Here are a few quotes which when put together make appalling reading.

At his first Prime Minister’s Questions on July 25, 2019, replying to the leader of the SNP, Ian Blackford MP, Johnson said:

‘Is it really their commitment to hand back control of Scottish fisheries to Brussels, just after this country – this great United Kingdom – has taken back that fantastic resource? Is that really the policy of the Scottish Nationalist Party? I respectfully suggest to the Right Hon Gentleman that that is not the basis on which to seek election in Scotland. We will win on a manifesto for the whole United Kingdom.’

Replying to Conservative MP Owen Paterson, also on July 25, 2019:

‘I thank my Rt Hon Friend. Valiant for truth in these matters, as he has been for so long, he is, of course, quite right that we have a fantastic opportunity now to take back control of our fisheries, and that is exactly what we will do. We will become an independent coastal state again, and we will, under no circumstances, make the mistake of the Government in the 1970s, who traded our fisheries away at the last moment in the talks. That was a reprehensible thing to do. We will take back our fisheries, and we will boost that extraordinary industry.’ 

On December 20, 2019, in reply again to Owen Paterson:

‘My Hon Friend perfectly understands what we need to do to restore to this country the advantages of its spectacular marine wealth, and that is exactly what we will do, once we become an independent coastal state. I remind the House and Opposition Members that one party in this House of Commons is committed to not just reversing the will of the people, but handing back control of Scotland’s outstanding marine wealth to Brussels, and that is the Scottish National Party – that is what they would do. I look forward to hearing them explain why they continue to support this abject policy and abject surrender.’

Conservative MP Robert Halfon asked on September 3, 2019: ‘My constituents, 68 per cent of whom voted to leave, are incredibly dismayed about what they see as shenanigans in Westminster to try to stop Brexit. Does my Rt Hon Friend agree that if we do not deliver Brexit by October 31, constituents in Harlow and across the country will have incredible mistrust in our Parliament and our democracy?’

The Prime Minister replied: ‘My Rt Hon Friend puts his finger on the issue. If we fail to deliver Brexit, we risk incurring a fatal lack of trust not just in the major parties – in all parties – but in our democracy itself.’  

On January 14, 2021, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael asked: ‘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. Is zonal attachment still the Government’s policy on quota shares?’

Environment Secretary George 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.’ 

On March 4, 2021, Luke Pollard, Shadow Environment Secretary, asked:  

‘Fishing boats are tied up and fish exporters are tied up with red tape. Fishing was promised a sea of opportunity, but the reality is that many fishing businesses are on the verge of collapse. Much of the so-called extra fish may not even exist or be able to be caught by British boats. The fishing industry feels betrayed. Is it not now time for the Secretary of State to apologise to the fishing industry for the Brexit deal that his Government negotiated?’

George Eustice replied

‘I have made it clear all along that the Government had hoped to get closer to a zonal attachment sharing arrangement in that first multi-annual agreement, but the EU has been required to forfeit 25 per cent of the fish that it has historically caught in our waters – a significant uplift – as the price for continued access. That additional fishing quota is worth £140million.’  

And this is what the answers really mean:

(1) Minister Prentis makes out what Brexiters wanted and expected concerning fisheries was but a dream, and yet what was stated the UK was entitled to under international law. Does she include the Prime Minister is that category of dreamland? It sounds from her answer as if it was always intended to use fisheries as a sacrifice for a deal.

(2) The PM is upbeat, to take the SNP head on, or is this a dream in a Scottish haar?

(3) Well, well! The Prime Minister has done the same as what he feels happened in 1972 under Prime Minister Heath – given the fisheries away at last moment.

(4) He taunts the SNP, but comes the hour and our Prime Minister hands the advantage to the SNP.

(5) A fatal lack of trust has been created by the Westminster Parliament themselves.

(6) Before five and a half years is up, there will be a General Election. The EU have made it very clear that they will demand and secure access to our waters, and they will threaten as usual to get it. The track record is our Parliament will submit.

(7) What the EU has historically caught in UK waters comes from the fee of the UK being an EU member. You don’t pay a fee to something you are no longer a member of. The EU has not forfeited anything. The answer would be correct if we were still members of the EU, but we are not (are we?)

These seven questions and answers sum up the problem with the UK: our parliament has failed those they are supposed to serve.

What is so disappointing is that from 1973 to 2020, with a few notable exceptions, our Parliamentarians were in denial of the ‘equal access principle’ as enshrined in UK/EU Treaties, and that denial is being continued from 2021. These treaties have ceased to apply, and continue in a similar vein only by the will of our own Parliament, in whom the electorate have lost all trust.

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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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