Written by Geoffey H Lazell
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An open letter to Boris Johnson and all those engaged in negotiations for ‘post-Brexit fishing rights in UK waters’
Dear Prime Minister et al,
Shortly after the EU referendum of 2016, proposals from the general public were invited by HMG on the subject of future fishing rights for foreign-flagged vessels in UK territorial waters, post-Brexit. I submitted my own modest contribution via the website set up for that purpose and received a favourable response from the Clerk to the Committee formed to discuss the issue. The Clerk informed me that whilst I had made some useful proposals, they could not be considered by the committee as I had, in my submission, referred to the late Edward Heath, Prime Minister, as ‘a traitor’. This Civil Servant invited me to retract said reference, but quoting Lord Kilmuir’s report to Mr Heath of December 1960, I politely refused to do so. I did, however, give him permission to redact any part of my proposal which might offend the sensibilities of the committee, if that would help to progress matters. Sadly, I heard nothing further, so I have no idea whether my submission was ever considered or not!
Given the current impasse which this highly contentious issue is still causing to the ongoing negotiations with the EU, particularly where Mr Macron and French fishermen are concerned, this seems an appropriate time for me to re-visit my proposal and submit it once again for your kind consideration – and public scrutiny.
My proposal was (and still is) a very simple one, based on the pragmatic assumption that entirely due to the aforementioned duplicity of our then Prime Minister, we no longer have sufficient British-flagged vessels to effectively fish our own waters, even if we successfully negotiate the return of our right to do so. Therefore, I suggested that we set up a simple licencing system for all foreign-flagged vessels, with a catch quota commensurate with both the size of the vessel and the size of the licence fee paid. Modern technology could be easily employed to monitor all such activity, supported of course, by our own Royal Naval fishery protection vessels when and where necessary.
Further to this, we could impose various conditions upon all licence-holders, such as mandatory landing of all catches into British ports, with perhaps an exemption granted in return for an enhanced licence fee, if that were to be deemed mutually advantageous to both our fishing industry infrastructure and the foreign-flagged fleet owners. The annually renewable licence fee could also easily be adjusted to reflect any tariffs or other import restrictions that the EU might be inclined to impose on our exports and services. Quid pro quo!
Much of the current French objection to the removal of the CFP from British waters is apparently the suddenness of the loss of some 75% of their fishing grounds. Given that it would take several years for our own fishing industry and its supply infrastructure to be rebuilt, the beauty of a licencing system is that the transition from the current ‘free-for-all’ back to the reinstatement of our own exclusivity could be a gradual and gentle process. As the size of our own fleet increases (perhaps by buying back some of those vessels that were originally sold off abroad), the number of licences issued each year could be reduced. This would give our French, Dutch, Danish, Belgian and Spanish friends ample time to readjust to the eventual reclamation of that which is rightfully ours under International Law.
Clearly, much work would need to be done in order to facilitate the details of this outline proposal, but as a principle, I respectfully suggest that it might just have some merit. I am not associated with the fishing industry in any way but merely humbly suggest it might be a simple, common sense-based way forward. Thank you.
Geoffrey H Lazell