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Why there should be no negotiation over fisheries

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THE most revealing statement on EU/UK fisheries negotiations came from Michel Barnier on July 23, when he accused the British side: ‘On the two points I mentioned – the level playing field and fisheries – this week again, the UK did not show a willingness to break the deadlock.’ 

What are the two sides on fisheries deadlocked over? The EU, while admitting ‘there may be change’ to the benefit of UK fishermen, are saying their fishermen and coastal communities must not be put in a position which could bring about the partial destruction of the EU fishing industry, and there must be agreement based on a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution for fisheries protecting the many men and women whose livelihoods depend on it.

In other words, carry on as per the last 37 years, where the EU fleet is reliant on the resource out of the British exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under a management of the Common Fisheries Policy or an equivalent. The only way the UK could show a willingness to break the deadlock would be to capitulate, on terms no other nation has accepted.

Barnier continued: ‘On fisheries, the UK is effectively asking for a near-total exclusion of EU fishing vessels from UK waters. That is simply unacceptable.’

If we had never joined the EEC, now EU, their fishermen would never have had access to or control of our fishing waters unless agreed by the UK. To say it is ‘simply unacceptable’ for the UK to want a near-total exclusion of EU fishing vessels from UK waters is nonsense.

This is an impossible level of negotiation, because the UK doesn’t have to ask. From January 1 it will not even be ‘near-total’ exclusion of EU vessels – if the UK so wishes it could be total. This has to be the UK’s starting position, and to say there ‘may’ be change to the benefit of UK fisherman shows a complete lack of respect of an independent coastal state’s rights.

It is a mystery why the EU are coming to the negotiating table in such a high-handed arrogant attitude, knowing full well that such a position will put the backs of the British electorate up, making negotiating impossible.

Further intransigence was shown to the House of Commons Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union when Barnier gave evidence to that committee via video link on June 8. Replying to excellent questions from Jane Stevenson MP on Fisheries, he said: ‘We have two contradictory positions, really. The European Union says, “Status quo; no change” and the British side says, “Let’s change everything”.’

This was cleverly followed up by Antony Higginbotham MP who asked why the EU looked to the future, yet on fisheries looked to the past​?

Barnier was becoming exasperated over fisheries questions, saying: ‘We are ready to find a balanced agreement that will, let me remind you, cover not just access to water and fish, but also market access.’

So the EU position is more of an ultimatum, where the attitude is you joined the club, so you obeyed the rules of that club, but now you have left, you can’t use the facilities any more, but still have to obey the rules. How can one be patient when you are expected to negotiate on those terms?

It would have been far more constructive if the EU had been honest, laid their cards on the table and admit they have a huge problem over fisheries. Both sides know the international law, but the EU try to twist round even that.

 In international fisheries law, where the EEZs of two or more nations butt up to each other, especially in the North Sea and English Channel, as the same stock lives in several different EEZs, the law expects the nations of  those EEZs to work in harmony with one another for the benefit and preservation of that stock. That is a good point, not only for the stock, but for those nations to build a genuine basis of friendship through co-operation, but oh no, not for the EU. Every year for each stock, a total allowable catch is agreed, which is then divided between the participating EEZs. The EU expect, by some unknown superior expectation, to have, just to take, around 60 per cent of the allocation of the UK’s EEZ.

As from January 1, that world no longer exists, and in most cases the EU will become the junior partner, so why now does Brussels think it can use bully-boy tactics, and cause bitterness among neighbouring nations, where ordinary people on both sides will suffer? There is no level playing field here, and certainly no looking to the future, but clinging to the past. The whole world is changing, and those nations thinking globally are realising the importance of their EEZs.

On no account must the UK permanently give away any part of our EEZ. You would have thought by now that the EU would understand if they continue to use threats of ‘You will do as we say, or no trade deal,’ the British will say, ‘So be it, if that’s the way you want it.’

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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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