The Customs Union – stupidity or sabotage?

Regular readers of this blog will know without a shadow of doubt that there is nothing to be gained by remaining in the EU’s Customs Union. Well, dear readers, you can pat yourselves on the back for you are clearly much wiser than 348 members of the Upper Chamber of our Parliament.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, speaking in the debate preceding the vote, said “I do not recall at the time of the referendum any debate about a customs union.” He was perfectly correct in saying this. Staying in the customs union is such a daft idea that no one felt the need to bring the subject up.  As Dr Richard North points out,  “A customs union does not in any way eliminate a border, as we see with the borders between Turkey and EU Member States.” it is therefore no help in solving the Irish border question. 

He also makes the point that, as usual, the Press are all over the place in their reporting of yesterday’s vote. It was not a “big defeat” for the government as the amendment supported by 348 peers only forced “the government to explain what it has done to pursue remaining in a customs union”. In other words, suppose that some degree of light finally dawned and the government realised that there was no point in remaining in a customs union, all this “big defeat” would require them to do would be to say to their Lordships “not much”. Hardly the sabotaging of Brexit which the headlines seem to suggest.

For people looking for a way to keep the flow of trade moving in the immediate post-Brexit period, both across the Irish border and through the Channel Tunnel, it makes for more sense to visit the invisible border between Sweden and Norway rather than Turkey’s version of “Operation Stack” at Kapikule on its border with EU member state Bulgaria. Norway is not in the customs union; Turkey is.  Need one say any more?

The Government should finally lay to rest all this nonsense about a customs union. It should also abandon the current plans for a transitional deal. Further evidence of its inadequacies emerged yesterday  when Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade commissioner, said that the UK would no longer be part of trade agreements negotiated by the EU with third countries  once we leave. Re-joining EFTA  as an interim arrangement would not only solve the Irish border issue but would address the issue of our trade with countries like South Korea and Mexico as EFTA has negotiated free trade agreements with virtually all the countries with which the EU has FTAs.

It remains a mystery to many observers why this sensible option isn’t being pursued. For all its well-known faults as a long-term relationship, as a stopgap arrangement it is far better than the arrangement currently being discussed with the EU. Adopting it would put to bed a number of issues which should have been dealt with well before now and thus enable the Brexit debate to move on after being stuck in the same groove for far too long

 

 

A deep and special fantasy world

Following the return of MPs to Parliament after the Easter Recess, their responses to recent Brexit developments will be closely watched. The lack of anger from Tory MPs thus far has been disappointing. The surrender on fishing in the draft transitional agreement has greatly upset the fishing community. It poses the question as to whether it would be right to sacrifice one of our historic industries even if we did end up with an all-singing, all-dancing deal at the end of 21 months. To destroy our fishing industry for a pure illusion is even worse, but this is what our government seems to be doing.

The “deep and special” relationship between the EU and the UK exists only in the minds of a few UK politicians; it is certainly not how the EU views its future links with a departing member state whose decision to leave the bloc was one of the biggest body blows it has ever faced.

Last week, David Davis announced plans to send “hundreds” of civil servants to Brussels to work on the deal. Within days, a senior EU source announced that this wasn’t going to happen. “There will be no negotiation strands, no ‘hundreds’ of British negotiators,” said an un-named diplomat.  “Trade negotiations will not start properly until after 29 March 2019. Before that we must get the fundamentals right,” the source said.

One important, unresolved issue is the status of Gibraltar, with Michel Barnier indicating that Spain will enjoy strong support from the other EU member states. Spain’s demands include the joint control of Gibraltar’s airport, cross-border cooperation on smuggling and ending what it sees as a tax haven with far lower corporation rates.

Yesterday’s Parliamentary written questions laid bare the depths of unreality which still pervade our government. Steve Baker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, was anything but clear when questioned by the Labour MP Paul Blomfield. When discussing the transitional priod, he said “The agreement will be underpinned by a duty of good faith and governed by a Joint Committee to ensure it is faithfully and fully implemented by both sides.” As John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave asked, “Since when have the EU run on good faith?” Mr Baker also went on to say, “As we move towards our future partnership with the EU, we will need to discuss how we manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.” The legal divergence begins on 29th March 2019, when “the  treaties will cease to apply” to the UK.  There still seems very little idea, from the UK point of view,  how the UK will relate to the EU in the transitional period from a legal point of view. We may keep our laws in step with Brussels but they will have a different legal basis.

Discussions on Brexit in the House of Lords revealed the same sense of muddle. Questioned by Lord Taylor of Warwick, Lord Callinan said, “During the implementation period the UK will be in a continued close association with the EU Customs Union. This will ensure a smooth exit and minimise disruption for businesses. HMRC are confident that they are on track to deliver the functioning customs, VAT and excise regimes the UK will need once it leaves the EU.” It is hard to share HMRC’s confidence, especially as far as the Irish Border issue is concerned.

It is becoming apparent to anyone following these negotiations that the performance of Mrs May and David Davis has been completely pathetic. The EU has walked all over them.  We can but hope that opposition from Brexit-supporting MPs within their party is merely dormant and that they will make it loud and clear that they will not support the proposed arrangements, including the terms for a transitional deal, nor the surrender on fishing nor, indeed, the proposed close military cooperation.  Sooner or later, it will dawn on them that their party will pay heavily for a botched Brexit. it is in everyone’s interest for that moment to arrive as quickly as possible so that there is time to change tack.

 

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Brexit roundup – short-term problems; longer-term potential?

With Parliament  still in the Easter recess, things have been a bit quieter than usual on the Brexit front. However, the well-supported fishing protests last Sunday suggest that we are going to be entering a  period in which the Government will face ever-mounting pressure to try a different approach to securing some sort of workable short-term post Brexit arrangement.

The long term is not looking promising either. Given how readily Mrs May and David Davis rolled over, what is the likelihood of their resisting demands from Michel Barnier that the UK sign a “non-regression” clause in any long-term agreement, which would force the UK not to undercut EU standards on tax, health and the environment to poach investments. He has also insisted that access for EU fishing vessels must be included in any long-term deal. The “environment” issue is a red herring as many EU environmental laws owe their existence to UK influence, but why should we not determine who fishes in our waters? Why should we be denied the freedom to cut tax? The state in the UK is horrifically bloated, as in most other Western nations.  It needs to be shrunk drastically and were this to be undertaken, taxes would inevitably undercut those in many EU member states.

Going back to the transitional arrangements, a report from the House of Commons Brexit Committee has confirmed that if a “deep and special partnership” with the EU proved unsuccessful, EEA/Efta membership was an alternative that could be implemented quickly. Although the Committee is looking at EEA/Efta as a long-term solution (which it isn’t)  it would be a better alternative than the current proposals for the short term, which poses the question as to why Mrs May and her team are pursuing such a damaging alternative. Maybe they still believe that it’s worth enduring 21 months of humiliation because  there will be a marvellous deal at the end – a hope which is unlikely to be fulfilled. Barnier’s comments make it clear that he wants to deny us as much long-term freedom as possible.

A number of Commonwealth countries have been discussing a future trade relationship with the EU. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it would be “fairly easy” to negotiate “an improved approach on trade between Canada and the UK” after Brexit. The same article claimed that India is becoming less enthusiastic, no doubt due to  the recent statement by Theresa May that she still intended to reduce annual net UK migration to less than 100,000, meaning that India’s desire for more of its citizens to come over here as part of a new trade deal is unlikely to be fulfilled. Australia is also keen to start negotiations with the UK on trade, but pointed out that  if we stayed in the EU’s customs union after Brexit, we wold become “irrelevant”.

Meanwhile, disgruntled remoaners are still seeking to over turn Brexit by demanding a second referendum.  For all her failings in other areas of Brexit, at least Mrs May is standing firm on this. “Regardless of whether they backed Leave or Remain, most people are tired of hearing the same old divisive arguments from the referendum campaign, and just want us to get on with the task of making Brexit a success. And they’re right to think that. The people of this country voted to leave the EU and, as Prime Minister, it’s my job to make that happen.” she said in a recent speech to mark one year until Brexit day.

Mrs May is most definitely right in claiming that most people have had enough of Brexit controversy. Claims that some 44% of voters want a second referendum do not tally with real-life experience.  Given that the poll was conducted by a pro-remain group, Best for Britain,  a healthy degree of scepticism is justified. Mrs May has the support of Jeremy Corbyn in opposing a second referendum and it is doubtful whether those activists on both sides of the argument who spoke in debate after debate, criss-crossing the country and having to suspend anything resembling a normal life for three months would want to go through it again.

The clamour is coming from those who wouldn’t have to do the donkey work. The latest addition to the ranks of these good-for nothings is David Miliband, who called Brexit “the humiliation of Britain.”  Well, Mrs May does seem to be trying to do this at the moment, but a decent Brexit would be the absolute opposite – a chance to stand tall as a sovereign nation once again. there’s nothing humiliating about this.  One after another, the fears stoked up by remoaners are being debunked. The UK economy has performed well since the vote and only today, Andreas Dombret, Member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, stated that despite attempts to lure parts of the finance industry to Paris or Frankfurt, London would remain Europe’s financial hub after Brexit.  A mass exodus from the City was always a concern during the referendum campaign, but such fears are unfounded.

In many ways, a healthy debate on how we leave  – i.e., the relative merits of the current transitional proposal versus EEA/Efta as a holding position will take the wind out of the remoaners’ sails and would cut their media exposure in favour of more important issues. However, one cannot overstate the importance of winning this debate. Brexit must mean Brexit (to quote Mrs May). Surrendering to the EU’s demands for a transitional deal would prevent us fully achieving the separation for which we voted in June 2016. This must not happen.

Fishing: the threat goes right up to the shoreline.

When the Prime Minister gave her first major speech outlining Brexit at the Conservative Party conference on 2nd. October 2016, Fishing for Leave rapidly produced an analysis,  pointing out the pitfalls within the Prime Minister’s plan.

Invoking Article 50 was fine. This would create  a clean break, with no repercussions from the other 27 Member States because they had accepted the terms in the Lisbon Treaty  and the Croatian Accession Treaty What was of great concern was the Prime Minister’s quest for a “deep and special” relationship, which like David Cameron’s red lines, would never be on offer or available, so such a policy would be chasing rainbows.

While FfL could understand the reason  for bringing all EU existing legislation into domestic Legislation, (otherwise on Brexit day there would be vast sections of UK legislation missing), we had serious concerns. This procedure was satisfactory for internal law, but it would cause problems with joint EU external legislation (Regulation) such as the Common Fishing Policy.

This concern was heightened when the Prime Minister stated that all rules and Laws would be the same the day before Brexit as after. The rules can be made to be the same, but the laws cannot be the same, simply because the UK will no longer be an EU member state, but treated as a third country, with no obligation for the EU to treat the UK as compatible.

Because of the huge mount of time wasted at the start of the Brexit process, the UK is having to  go through the process of an implementation/transition period (21 months) and  if the terms agreed with the EU are formally adopted, we face a serious risk of a legal action through the Vienna Convention on Treaties, which could tie us down to the status quo for many years.

By surrendering fishing, the Nation’s resource, for the 21 months of the transition period, instead of leaving the CFP on 29th. March 2019 and introducing a sensible scientific and environmentally sound British policy, we would be continuing with the CFP management, meaning that UKfioshermen would have to be subject to the final stages of the discard ban, which will be introduced at the start of 2019. If it is strictly enforced, by the UK Government’s own findings, 60% of the UK fleet will face bankruptcy, opening up the possibility for the EU to catch more fish in our waters in 2021,. Under International Law  UNCLOS3, Article 62 (3), because the UK would no longer have sufficient catching capacity, what we can’t catch must  have to be handed to our neighbours – in other words, the EU.

If that was not bad enough, the UK government, under the draft withdrawal agreement of 19th. March has agreed Article 125, and section 4, though paragraph 1, to allow the European Commission to propose to the Council that they can adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.  This includes the waters right up to UK beaches, as the derogation for the 6 and 12 nautical mile limit will have fallen, so the UK can say goodbye to the inshore lucrative squid fishery, and  shellfish  industry.

Our coastal communities will continue to decline, in spite of the token Government support of the Coastal  Communities Fund which, since 2012, has encouraged the economic development of coastal communities. So far £170 million has been spent and the scheme is now to be extended to 2021 with a possible further £90 million spend. That  is a pittance compared to the possible potential of over £6 billion annually our UK marine life could generate.

The only success which the UK Government can claim is leaving the 1964 London Convention, but that will  be tested July 2019, when all EU vessels should be excluded from the 12 nautical mile zone. That will be a test on whose law is superior EU or UK, as July 2019 will be during the transitional period.

There is no doubt that during the 21 month period, the UK fishing Industry, thanks entirely to UK Government policy, will be worse off than if we had stayed in the CFP . For the Prime Minister to say we will come out of the CFP in 2021, taking control of our Nation’s waters, to run our own affairs, is chasing rainbows, as the European Parliament has made it clear there will be no trade deal without EU access to UK waters. There is strong evidence to suggest that the EU was not prepared to consider any transitional agreement if we regained control of fisheries. Having capitulated once for the 21 month transition, a second capitulation – trade deal for fisheries access, is inevitable.

Without a legally watertight binding document in the next few months stating that nothing within our EEZ will be given away, the Prime Minister will not be believed.

This is not the fault of the EU, which will strive for the best deal for the benefit and unity of the remaining 27 member states. Our Government  has been told, and warned of the consequences of their actions, but it seems determined to push our maritime heritage beyond the point of recovery – to become global Britain, a land mass only. To repeat, it was the decision of our government to capitulate. The European Commission’s “notice to stakeholders“, published today (9th April) could not have been clearer, “As of the withdrawal date, the Common fisheries policy rules no longer apply to the United Kingdom…In accordance with international law of the sea, fishing vessels wishing to engage in fishing activities in waters under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of a third country are required to obtain a fishing authorisation from that third country.” This could not be clearer. The government held all the trump cards, but threw them away.

The actions of the UK Government is proving that it has a very different interpretation  of  Brexit from those who voted leave. The problems that will arise for the UK stem from  our own Government’s policy, no one else.

Fishing for Leave has constantly pointed out the pitfalls of Government Brexit policy, and one extra concern which we wish to highlight is the fate of the 12 nautical mile zone during the possible transitional period from 30 March 2019 to 1 January 2021.

One has to remember that basis on which the UK has exclusive rights in the 6 and 12 nautical mile zones  zones is a derogation, by regulation, from our EU Accession Treaty (which gave the EU rights up to our  low water mark.)

On the 29th March 2019 the EU treaties cease to apply, which in turn takes out the regulations, so at that point we are our cleanly out, with no repercussions. However, if we find ourselves subject to the CFP in all but name, there will be no derogation this time.This means that EU vessels can fish in the 12 miles around our coasts – wht out the limitation of quota. This would ruin our   shellfish and squid fisheries. Much of this catch is sold to the EU, but it now looks like EU vessels can catch and harvest it themselves.

The only saving grace, could be what Fishing for Leave tirelessly campaigned for, the removal of the 1964 London Convention, which allows foreign vessels into our 6 and 12 nautical mile zone. This should take effect on the 4th July 2019, and it will be a huge test of Government resolve, to see if they capitulate 100% and continue EU vessel access. If they do, EU vessels will be up to the beaches, and like the Kent Kirk case in January 1983, thanks to our Government’s own actions, there will be nothing we can do about it.

Michael Gove, the secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was living in a fantasy world when he replied to Alastair Carmichael with these weasel words:-

“There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.”

Both Mr Gove and the Prime Minister had previously stated categorically that we would leave the CFP on the 29th March 2019 and take back control of our Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical mile/median line, but in order to secure what will be a disastrous 21 month transition to buy moew time (in other words, to cover up the fact that they didn’t have any idea about a final settlement), the Government surrendered our EEZ to the EU.

Just to remind ourselves, here are Mrs May’s words:-

We will be leaving the common fisheries policy—and, as I indicated, the CAP—on 29th March 2019. The arrangements that pertain to fisheries during that implementation period will, of course, be part of the negotiations for that implementation period. Leaving the CFP and the CAP gives us the opportunity, post-implementation period, to introduce arrangements that work for the United Kingdom. The Environment Secretary is discussing with the fishing and agriculture industries what those future arrangements should be.

Can we trust her? After recent events, no amount of words, promises, assurances, will convince coastal communities that come 2021, the people’s marine resource will back under national control. After such a volte-face, they are justified in assuming that it will be given away for a trade deal, just as it has been given away now for the 21 months transition. The EU will demand that position for a trade deal and the UK Government will capitulate, and hand it over.

Just look at Article 125  part 3 of the draft UK draft leaving document :

The Union may exceptionally invite the UK to attend, as part of the Union delegation, international consultations and negotiations referred to in paragragh  1 of this article, to the extent allowed for Member States and permitted by the specific forum.

What a degrading, humilitating position the UK Government has placed our nation in.

Finally, part 4 states:   Without prejudice to article122(1) , the relative stability keys for the allocation of fishing opportunites  referred to in paragraph 1 of this article shall be maintained.

Paragraph 1 relates to article 43(3) TFEU : The Council, on a proposal from the Commission, shall  adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantative limitations and on the fixing and allocaion of fishing opportunities.

As relative stability keys can be changed, the EU can take what they like out of UK waters.

DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, claims that it had reached a deal with the EU whereby the UK’s share of the catch in our waters wold not be reduced during the transitional deal, which includes keeping the 12-mile limit exclusively for UK fishermen. Whatever DEFRA might, however, as far as the 12 nautical mile zone is concerned, based on the draft Withdrawal Agreement Article 125, it is wrong.

The 6 and partial 6 to 12 nautical mile zone is protected presently by a derogation within Regulation 1380/2013. That Regulation ceases to apply to the UK when we leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

DEFRA will argue that this isn’t the case because through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill this Regulation has been incorporated into domestic legislation.

Not just DEFRA but the UK Government as a whole is making a huge mistake in this thinking. While our rules might be identical, as we have pointed out, the legal basis is not the same, simply because we will no longer be a member state. In order for this arrangement to be acceptable with the EU, it would have to be incorporated in a treaty.

Until that happens, the wording of Article 125 relates from the base line (Low water mark) out to 200 nautical mile/median line.

Even if the EU agrees by handshake to maintain the existing arrangements, without a legal basis, EU vessels will enter our 12 nautical mile limit to take non quota species, such as squid, cuttlefish and scallops.

The only saving grace, could be the UK’s withdrawal from the London 1964 Fisheries Convention, commencing 4th July 2019, which withdrawal excludes all EU vessels from within the 12 mile zone. A determination to enforce this exclusion will be another test of the Government’s resolve. Will it stand firm, or capitulate? If it is the latter, then as with the 21 month implementation period, it will be certain capitulation over any trade deal which might come into effect at the end of 2020.

The fishing industry is not going roll over and Fishing for Leave will be organising a series of protests in ports up and down the country to highlight the plight of the industry – to be betrayed a second time by a Conservative government. Details of the location and dates of protests will be found in this article, which will updated regularly.

What angers fishermen and their supporters is that this surrender is totally unnecessary. If the government needs more time to negotiate a long-term deal, then why not go for the EEA/EFTA route as a holding position?   As far as fisheries is concerned, it would mean that we could take back control and the EU would be powerless to stop us. It could not stop us signing up to an arrangement which it has already signed with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and would also mean that any negotiations on a long-term trade deal would be starting from a much better position. Having regained control of fishing, we could make it clear to the EU that sharing our resource once again, to the detriment of our national fishing industry, will not be on the table. Indeed, it could not be on the table as the electoral price would simply be too high.

Why the government is sticking so rigidly to its suicidal course remains a mystery, but yesterday’s protests are only the start. Our fishermen have their backs against the wall. They have nothing to lose. The government – and the Conservative party in general – by contrast has everything to lose.

A year to go and we’re nowhere near a satisfactory Brexit

A significant milestone which most people would otherwise probably have failed to have noticed has been widely reported in the media today.

The picture above depicts how I had been imagining the mood will be in exactly a year’s time – on March 29th 2019 when the two-year Article 50 period expires and we finally leave the EU. As things stand, however, it will be Brexit in name only, so most certainly not be a cause for celebration. Ahead lies a minimum of 21 months as a vassal state, where we will continue to suffer all the frustrations of being in the EU without any representation in the EU institutions.

Looking back to that incredible morning of 24th June 2016 when the referendum result was announced, not even the worst pessimist could have predicted the complete shambles which the Government has made of the Brexit negotiations. Without any clear idea of what sort of final deal they sought and outsmarted at every turn by Michel Barnier  and his team, Theresa May and David Davis have made concession after concession to the EU and have come up with the idea of a transitional deal as a means of buying time after realising that so many areas of detail cannot be sorted out in time for a long-term deal giving us full independence to be signed off in time to be implemented a year from today.

So we are facing a situation where our bright future has been postponed. No restrictions on immigration, no freedom from the European Court of Justice, no cut in our contribution to the  EU’s coffers and the decimation of our fishing industry. This was not what we voted for in June 2016.

The big question is why so many Tory MPs, even staunch supporters of independence, are being so quiescent in the face of what is likely to be a disaster, not just for the fishing industry, but for the country as a whole  – and thus, for their party electorally. Are they, as one report suggests, mere “paper tigers”  who “may huff and may puff, but they won’t blow the Prime Minister’s house down – however far any heads of agreement deal may be from perfection”?

Thankfully, all is not lost – yet. The divorce document has to be signed off not only by the EU but by our Parliament too and the combination of a vote forced through (ironically) by remainers giving MPs the chance to reject the final deal and Mrs May’s wafer-thin majority may save the day. For one thing, the Irish border issue, in spite of reports to the contrary, is unlikely to be solved quickly in a way that will satisfy the Democratic Unionist Party, upon whose support Mrs May depends.

Secondly, the cave-in on fishing has provoked immense anger – on a scale that appears to have taken the government aback. Michael Gove was clearly uncomfortable when he faced some awkward questions in the House of Commons and given the fishing industry’s long history of campaigning, we can be sure that we have not heard the last of this issue yet.

Furthermore, it is not too late to try a different approach. The EEA/EFTA route has its friends and also its critics among Brexit supporters. Everyone, however, must agree on two points. Firstly, that it is not the ideal long-term relationship for an independent UK to have with the EU, but secondly (and in the immediate context, far more importantly), it is better as an interim arrangement in every way than the transitional terms which the EU is offering us – and is still a viable option which could be implemented with in a year. The EEA/EFTA countries are not part of the political structure of the EU, subject only to the 25per cent or so of laws relating to the internal market, not directly subject to the ECJ but to the EFTA court which can only rule on EEA-relevant matters and does not have any formal powers of enforcement. IF we took this option, we would be outside the Common Security and Defence Policy, the so-called  “Common Area of Freedom and Justice” – especially the EAW, Europol and the Eurogendarmerie. We would also be outside the Common Agricultural Policy  and critically, our fishing industry can return to domestic control. We could also restrict immigration as Liechtenstein has done.

For those who would like some more detail on this subject, this chart was produced by Anthony Scholefield during the Referendum campaign and although showing the advantages of the EEA/EFTA route compared with EU membership, if you substitute “our vassal statehood after 29th March 2019” for “remain” would still be a pretty accurate comparison.

We believe that all is not yet lost, but the lunacy of Mrs May and Mr Davis in pursuing this terrible transitional arrangement is totally baffling given something better is on offer. The electoral consequences for the Conservatives will be enormous. The sooner and more often they hear “1846” whispered in their ears* the more likely we are to see a desperately-needed change of tack.

 

  • In 1846, a crisis over the Repeal of the Corn Laws precipitated  a crisis for Robert Peel and the Tory party. The damaging split which ensued kept the Conservatives effectively out of office for 28 years. Your author is firmly convinced that the party will face a catastrophe of equal magnitude if Brexit is botched.

The great Brexit fisheries betrayal – it gets worse

Michael Gove and Theresa May between them are letting down our fishing industry when there is no need for them to do so. It seems that our Prime Minister is willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of thousands of men to save her skin after finding herself outplayed by the EU.

The parallels between Mrs May and her predecessor are becoming more apparent by the day. When David Cameron headed for Brussels to re-negotiate our membership in late 2015, it does appear that he genuinely believed that he could wring concessions out of the other 27 member states and come back with a deal which would be acceptable to the majority of the electorate. However, he set off with no well-thought out model in mind of how the UK could function in a semi-detached manner from Brussels – still within the EU but somehow pursuing a different path. Unsurprisingly, he got nowhere, only gaining a few minor cosmetic concessions rightly described by Jacob Rees-Mogg as “thin gruel“. Undeterred, Cameron ploughed on, tried to avoid admitting that his renegotiations had got nowhere, lost the referendum and resigned.

For Cameron’s “renegotiation”, read Theresa May’s “deep and special” relationship. From the start, it was based on wishful thinking with no clear idea either of the details of the relationship nor – and more  importantly – of how the EU works. Optimism that a trade deal would be easy to agree because of regulatory convergence soon dissipated as Michel Barnier repeatedly spelt out the EU’s intention to preserve the single market at all costs. Mrs May may not have realised what being a “third country” meant when she took over as Prime Minister and it is conceivable that the full implications still haven’t dawned on her, but she has been told in no uncertain terms that the EU is not going to give its former member preferential treatment.

What is more, having offered us thoroughly humiliating terms for any transitional period, the EU is already starting to talk tough about a final trading arrangement. All the indications are that in the critical area of fishing, she will roll over once again.

Just to remind ourselves, both Michael Gove and Mrs May consistently stated that we would leave the Common Fisheries Policy on 29th March 2019 and take back control of our Exclusive Economic Zone. However, the transitional deal does no such thing and both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove have been put on the defensive. Even after admitting that he had tamely surrendered on fishing, Mr Gove, questioned by the Lib Dem MP Alastair Carmichael, said:-

“There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.”

Other awkward questions have been deflected by saying “But we want to leave the CFP – and indeed the EU;  you don’t” or words to that effect. It is a smokescreen to disguise the betrayal of our fishermen. It is a complete myth that if we can endure 21 months of EU control of fisheries, all will be wonderful at the end of transitional period.  The EU’s new discard ban means that any fishermen who has used up his quota for just one species may not fish again that year. Fishing for Leave has not hid its anger. it intends to “mobilise and show our absolute disgust and heartbreak at our own government capitulating and sacrificing Britain’s fishing grounds and coastal communities to continued EU mismanagement.” Watch this space!

Of course, there is an element of points scoring by the other political parties who are making the most of the government’s discomfort on this subject, but it would be wrong to say that MPs like the SNP’s Brendan O’Hara of Argyll and Bute was acting purely from cynical motives when he said, “I strongly advise the Prime Minister to read SNP fishing policy before she comments on it, as she has it spectacularly wrong. Will she explain to the fishing communities of Argyll and Bute why she has agreed to a deal that keeps them in the CFP without a voice? Is that not the worst possible deal that her Government could have achieved for our fishing communities?”

He is quite correct – it is the worst possible deal. What has been overlooked by many commentators on this subject is the draft exit document contains the following in Article 125 part 4: “Without prejudice to article122(1) , the relative stability keys for the allocation of fishing opportunities referred to in paragraph 1 of this article shall be maintained.”

(Paragraph 1 relates to article 43(3) TFEU : The Council, on a proposal from the Commission, shall adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.)

The relative stability keys are an allocation percentage per EU country by species for the sharing out of the quotas. The paragraph above makes it clear that EU can change them, allowing them to take what they like out of UK waters. In that case, it will be of little consequence whether or not the EU  insists on access to UK waters as part of a long-term trade deal. there will be no fishing industry left in our country anyway.

Yet all Mrs May can say in the face of rising cross-party anger about the sell-out of our fishing industry is, by implication, to criticise the fishermen. She said “Although I recognise that not everyone will welcome the continuation of current trading terms for another ​21 months, such an implementation period has been widely welcomed by British business because it is necessary if we are to minimise uncertainty and deliver a smooth and successful Brexit.” Who else could she be referring to when mentioning those who will not welcome 21 months of the current trading terms?  Fishermen can clearly be sacrificed to keep everyone else happy. She also dodged a question from Jeremy Corbyn when he raised the subject as one of a number of questions about the government’s change of  tack over Brexit:-

Our coastal and fishing communities were told by the Environment Secretary only this month: “The Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP”— common fisheries policy— “as of March 2019.” Just a few weeks later, we find out that that will not be the case”, he said. The Prime Minister replied to some of his other comments but studiously ignored the issue of fishing.  

Our friends in Fishing for Leave have many years of campaigning experiences and do not intend to roll over.  Do not be deceived by the support from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation for this deal. This organisation represents those who have bought quota, not ordinary fishermen, who are absolutely livid.

It is possible that fishing could be the issue which provokes the crisis we have long been expecting. To repeat what we said then,   “it may require some senior heads to roll if the transitional blind alley is to be averted. it is a case of holding on to your hats.” Indeed; a Brexit which throws away what could have been a success story and sacrifices  thousands of UK jobs is no Brexit at all.