Editor’s Note ~ This is a two-part story. The second part will be published tomorrow on Independence Daily.
We are finally fast approaching the critical juncture that’s loomed since 2016 – will the government ensure the UK genuinely ‘takes back control’ of our waters to be a sovereign, independent coastal state no different to Norway, Iceland or Faroe?
OR will the government cave to EU demands on fishing where we have a continuation of the current unlimited access and disproportionately exploitationary quota shares so loaded against the UK?
It is unarguable that British fishing was sacrificed to join the EEC/EU; that the EU making off with up to 90% of quotas on many species (when on average 60% of catches are from UK waters) is little short of robbery; and that the CFP has been inept at safeguarding the environment, fish or fishermen.
47 years of hurt for British coastal communities can begin to be rectified this year with the clean break from the CFP which is provided by leaving the EU, when the treaties, policies and regulations automatically “cease to apply” as per Article 50.
There is huge public expectation to see what has become the “acid test” of Brexit delivered upon. This Conservative government has the chance to exorcise the ghost of Edward Heath that has haunted them for half a century.
Boris Johnson has vocally stuck to fishing won’t be traded away as part of a wider deal, saying that would be “a reprehensible thing to do”. With the proof of the pudding fast approaching, whether fishing is saved or surrendered will make or break the Conservatives in a host of coastal constituencies.
The EU’s self-entitled and belligerent demand to continue its fleet’s unhindered exploitation of British waters is expected but must be squashed.
Sadly, this has been made more difficult than needs be by fishing remaining in the terms of the Political Declaration – terms which the Withdrawal Agreement obliges the UK to ratify as the basis of any Future Trade Deal.
These state (Para.73) that the UK must “establish a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares…within the context of the overall economic partnership” – effectively linking fishing with trade – something HMG says it will not do..?
It says any fishing arrangement should be based on “non-discrimination” (Para.72) – the basis principle of equal access to a common resource. It sets up for a “level playing field” (Para.21) to ensure regulatory alignment with EU rules.
It also prohibits the curtailing of EU freedom of establishment (Para.29), which has allowed EU owned but UK registered “Flagships” to predominate – where they now hold half of the meagre fishing opportunities the UK does get under the CFP.
The Political Declaration also makes provision for the UK to be enmeshed in “associate” membership of EU policies (Para.120) and may “establish specific governance arrangements” (Para.118) to do so.
We may not be in ‘the’ CFP, and may well in name be an independent coastal state (as every minister likes to emphasize), but if future arrangements see the UK hidebound to mimic EU rules and continue unfettered equal access (as the EU clearly intends), then the government can use what names and semantics it wants. If it walks like a CFP and quacks like a CFP it is ‘a’ CFP if not ‘the CFP.
Some may say this is the harshest interpretation of the wording but, it’s clearly where the subservient efforts of Mrs May were intended to take us – the Withdrawal Agreement and its Political Declaration and Transition period are her Frankenstein. Mr Johnson achieved the bare minimum of changes but it’s still a dire deal and regrettably the totemic fishing industry wasn’t exempted. This leaves many nervous.
Fishing hanging on a thread?
Maybe, but it’s not over yet if the government stands firm on a British interpretation of the Political Declaration wording;
First, the government can tell the EU to get stuffed on linking fishing to trade – after all doing so wouldn’t impinge on the obligation to “establish a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares as part of the wider economic partnership”. We’d be establishing a new fisheries agreement as part of the wider deal sadly for the EU it should be a short discussion – no, nie, non!
Second, following from the first, the new fisheries agreement on access & quotas can be very limited. The Political Declaration doesn’t specify the amount of access or quota, nor over what time frame. The government MUST legislate and ensure that ANY swap of access or quota ONLY happen when the UK receives a reciprocal value of opportunities in return, AND are on a STRICTLY annual basis – no different to how the other independent coastal states of the NE Atlantic interact with the EU and one another.