I BELIEVE the majority of the UK electorate know there is something wrong with the British fishing industry. Over the past years they have seen the decline in the fortunes of our coastal communities, acknowledged by UK Government as some of the most deprived areas within the UK, hence the financial support through the Coastal Communities Fund.
If you asked the electorate why this has happened, very few would know, other than it was something to do with former British Prime Minister Edward Heath and joining the EU.
It was in fact a technical reason within the signing of the Accession Treaty, 1972, where a small section of jargon was portrayed to Parliament and the electorate 180 degrees the wrong way round with horrendous consequences, and worse still continued in denial as to the real meaning to the present day. Exactly the same thing has happened in the December 24 2020 EU/UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement under the premiership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It is difficult to understand how two Prime Ministers from the same political party can carry out the same dreadful deception.
From 1972 the fishing industry were led to believe they had the near-exclusive rights to our 12 nautical mile limit, which meant that literally only United Kingdom fishermen would be allowed to fish in that zone, and that as and when the 200 nautical mile zone was established, which was by an Act of Parliament on January 1, 1977, the UK would at least be given exclusive use of the 50-mile limit. The then Minister John Silkin tried hard, but had to report to Parliament our Act of Accession prevented that, and if the UK was not careful, we could find EU vessels fishing right up to our beaches in 1983 if the UK didn’t agree and abide by EU objectives and desires.
This was put to the test in 1983, when a Danish skipper and MEP, Kent Kirk, deliberately fished in ‘UK waters’ and was found guilty in a UK court. This was overturned by the European Court of Justice, proving the misleading nature of the government’s portrayal of the meaning of the technical jargon within our Accession Treaty.
In his book Whips’ Nightmare (p138), former MP Christopher Gill describes how in 1995 the Conservative Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, William Waldegrave, admitted at the Despatch Box that the root problem for the fishing industry was our Accession Treaty, but that was erased from Hansard.
So to the present day, and UK Fisheries Minister Victoria Prentis giving evidence to a House of Lords select EU Committee on January 13, 2021, under the chairmanship of very experienced Liberal Democrat Lord Teverson, who gave his analysis of the situation. The minister replied: ‘I think taking the fisheries package overall we haven’t done as badly as you’re suggesting . . . Taking the agreement overall, yes we have 25 per cent uplift. That is undoubtedly a gain. It means we will have, after five and a half years, 25 per cent more than we have at the moment. That is great . . . ‘
Such wording gives the impression of a reasonably satisfactory outcome, and the Government expecting a clap on the back.
Unfortunately the Agreement does not mean that at all. Up to January 31, 2020 we were members of the EU, and for the remaining 11 months of 2020 in transition under the same rules as if we were members. As EU members we had to share our nation’s living marine resource with all other EU members, resulting in EU vessels harvesting and taking free of charge approximately 50 per cent of the resource in our 200-mille Exclusive Economic Zone.
When you are no longer an EU member, and a coastal sovereign independent nation once more, you no longer share your resource with others, other than the terms in the international law UNCLOS 3, and now allocated to the UK government is the full amount our EEZ is entitled to. Under the agreement, where the Minister states 1,304 licences have been issued by our government to EU vessels to fish UK waters, in five and a half years’ time the UK will be allowing those vessels to harvest 75 per cent of what they took when we were members, which is a loss, not a 25 per cent gain.
The matter of fisheries and other nations’ access to UK waters is now solely at the discretion of the UK Government.
The switch from being an EU member to not being a member was always going to be a thorny issue concerning fisheries, and should have been dealt with before December 31, 2020, rather than kick the can down the road for someone else to sort out during 2026, especially as there will be a General Election before then. Meanwhile although it is nothing to do with the UK now, the present EU Fisheries management regulation expires on December 31, 2022, and a new one will be created.
It is understandable that a transitional/lead time of five to six years was given to ease the changeover. Such periods of time are agreed to give time to implement in a smooth orderly manner the journey from point A to an all sorted-out position at point B. What has happened is that we have left point A on an unknown walkabout, under an EU/UK Specialised Committee, to arrive back after five and a half years at point A and start negotiating all over again.
This is no way to proceed. It will give no encouragement for youngsters to enter the industry, it will not rejuvenate coastal communities, it will not let the UK become world leaders in marine environment. Instead it will keep the EU as masters of waters which are the territory of the UK. The UK electorate are not daft, they can see for themselves when they visit the coast that Brexit has failed the coastal communities, and that situation is created by our UK Government and endorsed by Parliament.