Who will blink first?

Our attention has been drawn to an interesting article which appeared on the Conservative Home website. The author, James Arnell, claims that we in the UK have a different mindset when it comes to negotiations. “In the UK”, he claims, “parties generally start from a position which is more or less reasonable on each side and move together to a deal relatively quickly, seeking to avoid unnecessary escalation up the chain of command.”

The Continental approach is very different:- “Negotiations generally start with almost ridiculously extreme positions on each side….It is not at all unusual for these steps….to be accompanied by walkouts, requiring bosses to get things ‘back on track’. Ultimately, this continental form of negotiation culminates in a relatively rapid final phase of negotiations between the ‘head honchos’, in which, after months or years of painful posturing on both sides, points are traded embarrassingly quickly and a deal is sealed.”

Mr Arnell says that we should really start worrying if the negotiations are going smoothly at this stage as it means that the UK side would have been giving too much away.

The author works for Charterhouse, a private equity firm.  His biographical page on that firm’s website states that he is a barrister who speaks French and German fluently. All things considered, this article on ConHome sounds like it has been written by someone with first-hand experience of the Continental mindset with which David Davis and his team are having to deal during the Brexit negotiations. Maybe this is why not a lot is being given away by the UK government. While such tactics may ultimately turn out to be the best way of getting a favourable deal with the EU, as we have pointed out the lack of the details of any Brexit masterplan is causing concern for a number of business figures who are keen to know in far more detail what the government’s exit plans actually are.

A little extra piece of detail did emerge yesterday morning. According to Open Europe, Theresa May was adamant that even any transitional deal would not involve membership of the Single Market.  “We said we would no longer be members of the single market because we will no longer be members of the European Union.,” she said. Fair enough, but if there is another plan, not only organisations such as the Campaign for an Independent Britain but more importantly, some big names in the business world are straining at the leash for some reassurance.

Some confirmation of Mr Arnell’s analysis of the Continental mindset has surfaced in the shape of a  reference document of the Workshop on “Common Fisheries Policy and BREXIT” held on 21th June 2017, by the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries.  Concern has already been voiced about our denunciation of the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, an agreement which pre-dated our joining the EU allowing limited access to vessels from other Western European nations to certain areas of the waters between 6 and 12 nautical miles from our coastline.

As the wording of the original document was vessel-specific and no boats permitted to access our waters in 1964 are likely still to be active, denouncing this Convention could turn out to have been little more than a precautionary measure. The message it conveyed, however, was that the UK is serious about regaining control of all of our waters right up to the 200 nautical mile/median point limit and it was not well received. The response of Geert Bourgeois, the Flemish Prime Minister, was to wave around an ancient charter signed by Charles II in 1666 allowing fifty herring boats from Bruges “eternal rights” to fish in UK waters.  A bit of research showed this action to be nothing more than sabre-rattling. Even nearby Zeebrugge, a far more important fishing port than Bruges these days, could only muster 43 fishing boats in total four years ago.

So it comes as no surprise that the European Parliament is keen to see EU boats continue to plunder our waters. Although trade and fisheries will be handled separately, the report says, “The fact that these issues will be negotiated in separate legal frameworks should not lead to the fragmentation of fisheries issues, which should be addressed in their entirety and together, so as to ensure that the free movement of fishery products is linked to free access to waters and resources and vice versa”. As John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave commented, “The EU will want to tie the whole package together using blackmail on trade” –  In other words,  let us fish in your waters more or less as before or we’ll make it hard for you to sell fisheries products in the EU.

John has studied the issue of historic rights and has concluded that we can take back control of our waters without being open to a legal challenge over this issue. Nonetheless, the European Parliament document says “These historical fishing rights should be taken into account in the negotiations to facilitate preferential access by Member State fleets.” I shan’t repeat his rather forthright comments about this for fear of offending anyone’s sensitivity, but suffice it to say that he is distinctly unimpressed with the reasoning of the European Parliament! As an aside, it is worth pointing out that the European Parliament has a relatively minor role to play in the Brexit process, but its attitude is unlikely to be different from that of other EU institutions.

The bottom line is that if there is no agreement on fishing, the EU will be the clear loser. We would have full control of our waters right up to the 200 nautical mile/median point on Brexit day and no EU vessel would be able to fish anywhere within it. The loss of access to EU waters by our fishermen would be more than compensated by having exclusive access to our own.

This, or course, assumes that Michael Gove does not blink first and give way. The denunciation of the 1964 Convention was a move in the right direction, but the howls of protest from across the Channel are a warning to him that he will need to hold his nerve.

Indeed, it may not just be Mr Gove who needs to take James Arnell’s advice on board. Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister has written a book called Adults in the Room based on his personal experience of how awkward he found EU officials to be.  On the other hand, while we have the upper hand on fisheries, we certainly don’t when it comes to other important areas of trade. Our negotiators must hold their nerve and not be intimidated, but they know that the mantra “no deal is better than a bad deal” is no more rooted in reality than the prospect of fifty 350-year old herring boats from Bruges suddenly appearing in the Channel demanding their eternal rights to fish in our waters.

Photo by waltercolor

Danger – Handle with care

When the current Parliamentary session ends on July 20th, we will enter what has long been  called “the Silly Season” when newspapers dredge up all sorts of far-fetched stories to try to keep readers’ interest.

It seems that some are already getting into practise, particularly those who specialise in “biff-bam” Brexit stories,  many of which have a only very tenuous relationship with fact. Among the e-mails greeting me this morning were several communications from concerned leave supporters who had spotted seemingly worrying articles in the press over the weekend.

Two articles in particular were the focus of concern. The first concerns an ancient charter granted by Charles II in 1666 allowing 50 fishermen from Bruges “eternal rights” to fish in English waters as an act of gratitude for the hospitality given him by the city during the 1650s when he lived in exile.  The headline is much more lurid, however:- “Belgium says 1666 royal charter grants its fishermen “eternal rights” to English waters.” Not quite the same as 50 fishing boats from one Belgian city! Let’s unpack things a little more.

Firstly, a discussion my colleague John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave revealed that we technically have similar fishing rights off the Newfoundland Coast going back even further – to the period shortly after its discovery by John Cabot in 1497. Have we sought to upset the Canadians by exercising them at any time in the last hundred years? Almost certainly not. Furthermore, in 1666, Belgium did not exist as a country, being part of the Spanish Netherlands. Then, what is meant by “English Waters”? In the 17th Century, by convention, this meant only the sea within three nautical miles of the shoreline. Things have changed significantly since then, with territorial waters being expanded during the 20th century. Any attempts therefore by fishermen from Bruges to fish within three miles of the English coast after Brexit on the basis of this charter would open a legal Pandora’s box.

But are there actually any vessels that would be entitled to do so? The charter mentions “Fifty herring boats.” The historic town of Bruges, which in its heyday saw considerable maritime traffic along the  canals linking it to the North Sea, is no longer a major port. The fishing industry in that part of Belgium is centred on nearby Zeebrugge (literally “Bruges-on-Sea”) which is, in fact, the largest fishing port in the country, with a substantial fish market in the town. Yet in 2013, it only boasted 43 fishing boats in total. Given that Bruges lies on a canal 8 miles (or 12,87 kilometres) inland from Zeebrugge and its fish market, the likelihood of there being any fishing boats (let alone specialist herring boats) based in the part of the city which existed in 1666 is almost certainly zero.

In other words, when the Flemish prime minister Geert Bourgeois unrolled a copy of the charter on a Belgian television news show, it was a piece of grandstanding and nothing more.  It does, however, indicate just how much grandstanding we are likely to face as the Brexit negotiations get under way. Belgium, along with other EU member states who fish in the North Sea, has been upset by the decision by Michael Gove to denounce the 1964 London Fisheries Convention. Even this, however, is a considerable over-reaction. The wording of this agreement is vessel-specific and therefore was unlikely ever to have been put to the test as none of the boats specified are likely to be in commercial use 53 years later. In other words, Mr Gove’s action was merely a precautionary measure to avoid possible complications.

It’s not only politicians on the other side of the channel who are grandstanding.  I also received a couple of e-mails about an article claiming that Vince Cable reckons that Brexit will never happen. Once again, let us examine the facts. The Lib Dems campaigned in the recent General Election to be the so-called “party of the 48%”. They went up from 9 MPs to 12 only courtesy of the SNP slump in Scotland, so it can hardly be said that their campaign was a success, but hope springs eternal!

Cable is wrong because of the dynamics of the two main parties. The Tories did unexpectedly badly and are licking their wounds. The majority of Tory MPs campaigned for Remain but most Tory activists and a significant minority of MPs are solidly pro-Brexit, so to backpedal would be suicide, provoking the worst crisis in the Conservative Party since 1846. (See more on this here – principally the last three paragraphs.)

But Corbyn has been strengthened by the election result, even though he didn’t win. As a consequence, he is revealing his true Brexiteer colours. He and his right hand man John McDonnell have never been keen on the EU but when he won the Labour leadership campaign, he initially faced immense opposition from the majority of Labour MPs, who didn’t want him as their leader. He was thus unable to take an anti-EU stance publicly. This has now changed as Corbyn was quite smart in the election campaign, pitching to floating Brexit supporters who were either moving on from UKIP or who didn’t like the Tories. Now his own position is strengthened, he is coming out increasingly strongly for Brexit. This in turn adds further pressure on the Tories not to backpedal.

None of this is to ignore the complexities of Brexit but the Lib Dems are now no more than little pygmies shouting from the sidelines. The media may feel obliged to report the words of the man likely to be the next leader of the UK’s third party, but no one need take much notice of his wishful thinking. We are basically into a period of two-party politics. It may not last for long, but at the moment, neither Mrs May nor Jeremy Corbyn show any signs of trying to stop Brexit and no other party leader’s opinions matter very much.

I hope that this debunking of two articles will help reassure concerned readers. Politicians remain the least trusted profession in the UK, but journalists run them pretty close, being even less trusted than bankers, estate agents and trade union officials. There are some exceptions and we are thankful to those members of the media who do seek to maintain high standards and report facts accurately, especially when it comes to Brexit. Based on what I found in my e-mail in tray this morning, however, all too many journalists are guilty of sloppy reporting, poor research and sensationalism. Their offerings, especially lurid headlines in the forthcoming “Silly Season”, need to be handled with extreme care.

 

A present from CIB to our MPs

Like all campaign organisations, things changed significantly for the Campaign for an Independent Britain after 23rd June last year. Our target up to this point had been the general public. We produced pamphlets and leaflets aimed at ordinary people which set out the case for independence.

Since the vote to leave the EU, it is our MPs who need to be targeted – to ensure that they deliver the best Brexit deal possible. Obviously, lengthy face-to-face meetings with individual Ministers and Civil Servants is a task for specialists with detailed knowledge of their  particular area, but there is still a place for easy-to-read literature which explains the essentials of a given Brexit topic.

So last week, all MPs were sent a copy of our recent fisheries booklet Seizing the Moment. Written by John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave, it sets out the options for the UK fishing industry after Brexit, explaining which, in the author’s widely-respected opinion, is the best way forward.

The booklet was accompanied by a covering letter written by Rev Philip foster, one of our vice- chairmen, which reads as follows:-

Dear MP,
NEW BRITISH FISHERIES POLICY
When Britain was negotiating to join the EEC, just before completion, they sprang the demand that our waters should become “a common resource” for all EEC states to share. P.M. Edward Heath caved in and
misled Parliament, claiming that he had provided safeguards for British fishermen. The result has been an ecological disaster for our unique marine resource and economic disaster for our decimated fishing
communities.
    The government, in “repatriating” fishing policy, must not just transfer the existing regime to the British statute book, allowing the environmental catastrophe of the unworkable Common Fisheries Policy quota regime to continue.
WHAT IS OURS?
�  Our territorial waters up to 12 miles from the coast.
  Under the London Fishery Convention of 1964 the UK gave fishing rights to France and four other
  countries within our 6-12 mile territorial limit. This can be renounced by giving two years notice. The government has announced it will do this; an excellent start.
�  Our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which stretches for 200 miles from our coast or to the median line when neighbouring countries are nearer than 400 miles from us.
All living marine species within this zone belong to us. (Fishery Limits Act 1976).     Control should be asserted as soon as we leave the EU and no permanent fishing rights should be accorded to any foreign vessels.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
The notorious CFP EU quota system, which causes massive amounts of fish to be thrown back dead into the sea, should be scrapped. It has built-in incentives to cheat. Our expert friends in ‘Fishing for Leave’ have studied fishery management systems worldwide and believe that the control of days at sea by trawlers (as used in the Faeroe Islands) is far more practicable. Combined with local ecological controls for the very different fishing grounds in our waters, it can easily be policed with satellite assistance.
  Fishing rights should not be sold as individual property but remain under public control, inalienably for the nation.
    The enclosed booklet is a readable, non-technical distillation of a lifetime’s fishery experience by the author, John Ashworth; more are available on request.
  As Parliament is the steward of this great natural resource, we hope you will find it useful in urging a truly British policy on the government.

 

A small step – the denunciation of the 1964 Fisheries Convention at last!

Within a week of taking up his new post as Secretary of State Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, has finally denounced the London 1964 Fisheries Convention. This is a small and welcome step towards Brexit, but one which should have been done at the same time as Article 50, as both require two years’ notice of termination. It means that unless we get a time extension to the Article 50 process, there will be a 3-month overlap.

The 1964 Convention was an agreement between the UK and some other European countries about fishing rights in each other’s waters. It was disadvantageous to UK fishermen and very beneficial to the French, possibly as a sop to General de Gaulle, who was not at all keen to see us join the European Community, with which we were currently in negotiations with at the time.

There are some grounds for saying it may make little difference as the Convention is vessel-specific and very few, if any, boats mentioned in the 1964 agreement are likely to be commercially active.

Of course, our membership of the EU has superseded it. Michel Barnier tweeted yesterday:-

UK denunciation of London Convention=no change: EU law/Common Fisheries Policy had superseded it. EU 27 interests=my priority for negs

This is a very telling. In one sense, Barnier is correct, as the detail of the Convention was transferred into EU regulation. On Brexit day, however, the regulation ceases to apply, and we revert to previous domestic legislation which, if it had not been denounced today, would have continued the right of access to our 6 to 12 nautical mile limit.

Note again, “EU 27 interests=my priority for negs.” Given that France gained most from the 1964 Convention, in any negotiations for a post-Brexit fishing settlement, you can expect France to demand access rights to fish in UK waters.

So while today’s move has cleared the way for UK control of our waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coast, there is still the question of control of our seas between 12 and 200 nautical miles (or the median point where the sea is less than 400 nautical miles wide). The Great Repeal Bill will repeal the European Communities 1972 Act, but at the same time will repatriate EU law into UK law – in other words, EU legislation will still be on our statute books but will take its authority from Westminster and not Brussels. This means that while Article 50 would take us out of the Common Fisheries Policy, the Great Repeal Bill, unless it excludes fisheries, would more or less take us straight back in again.

The separate Fisheries Bill will counter that, as long as it takes effect at exactly the same time as, or before, the Great Repeal Bill. If there is any overlap, this will result in huge problems of continuity and legal challenges.

As the time ticks away towards 30th March 2019, ministers need to remember the Kent Kirk case. This Danish skipper deliberately fished in UK waters to test the situation when there were uncertainties following the termination of a fisheries agreement without anything being put in its place.

Once we reach the end of the Article 50 period in March 2019, all EU treaties and regulations will cease to apply to the UK, and we revert to our own UK legislation. It is vital to sort out a fisheries policy before then and the timetable is short. Under Article 50, unless there is unanimous agreement among the 27 members to extend the two year period, we have 21 months left to achieve a withdrawal agreement. When you consider all that needs to be done in such a short space of time, it raises the question as to whether this is possible.

The EU is in the driving seat when it comes to determining the terms of withdrawal. The UK can say yes or no and even then, the Council and the European Parliament have a vote. While the EU is obliged by treaty to conclude a deal, it could make life so difficult that the UK either has to submit or say no.

However, circumstances have dealt us a strong hand as far as fisheries is concerned. If there is no fisheries agreement, no EU vessel will be able to fish in our waters. Given the French fishing Industry needs access to UK waters to survive, it will be putting a lot of pressure on the EU’s negotiators to fight hard on its behalf. It is vital that our side does not give in. Gove has thrown down the gauntlet and even today’s action has ruffled a few feathers. He will need to steel himself for a far worse reaction if he is to see this through to the bitter end and reclaim full control out to the 200 nautical mile/median point limit.

(See also this press release from Fishing for Leave)

Negotiating Independence – a letter from our Chairman

The letter below, written by our Chairman, Edward Spalton, was recently published in the Derby Telegraph.

Sir,

Like D.G. Betts (30 June), I am keen to be out of the EU and have been since 1972 when I began to discover the ulterior motives and bad faith by the Europeans and by our own government, surrounding our accession to membership.

Negotiations were nearly complete when the EEC (as it then was) suddenly introduced the Common Fisheries Policy, demanding that our waters should become a “common resource” for all member countries to share. Prime Minister Edward heath knew that there was no legal provision in the Rome Treaty for such a policy but went along with it nonetheless. He also misinformed Parliament that British fishermen’s interests would be protected. The result was ecological catastrophe for our seas and fish stocks, economic catastrophe for our fishermen and a massive financial loss to our country’s balance of payments..

This was one reason why Tony Blair wrote in his 1983 election manifesto “We”ll negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC which has drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs”. What a pity he never kept his word!

It is a complex business to right the wrongs of forty four years, so it will require negotiation which take time. Under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, a two year period is allowed. During that time we are still full participating members but we do not sit on both sides of the table during the withdrawal negotiations. We can hardly be buyer and seller at the same time! That is reasonable enough.

Paragraph 4 of Article 50 states “….the member of the European Council or of the Council (of Ministers) representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the Council in the decision concerning it…” That is why our representatives are excluded those meetings – but only from those meetings.

For everything else, we continue full members until (Paragraph 2) “The treaties shall cease to apply from the date of the entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification, unless the European Council in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period”.

Almost uniquely this is one EU document which is both short and clear – but the negotiations to get the right deal will be very complex indeed.

Yours faithfully,

 

Edward Spalton

 

Fishing for Leave Threatens Another Flotilla if Establishment Continues to Prevaricate

Contact: Alan Hastings, [email protected], 07827 399 408

 

A year ago the Fishing for Leave Flotilla proceeded up the Thames to the heart of our capital with a flotilla of 30 vessels.

To take our cry for a better future to the heart of government as the most prominent demonstration of the Brexit campaign – if the government does not start to deliver or backslides on Brexit we’ll be back!

The vessels represented all sizes, sectors and all areas, making a tremendous effort and sacrifice and coming together as never before with dignity to answer their country’s call when others shamefully would not.  Some suggested it was the difference in the vote.

The SFF and NFFO that purport to represent the industry continued their ambivalence towards British withdrawal and hid behind the guise of ‘neutrality’ despite 90% of their members crying to escape the EU.

The sight of all types and sizes of vessels from all areas of the country proceeding through an icon of Britain at Tower Bridge made many hearts swell with pride and eyes fill with tears.

Had it not been for Fishing for Leave there would have been no voice for the most pro-Brexit industry. FFL has continued unabated since, representing our industry vociferously in the corridors of power.

HOWEVER, we still have our grave concerns on the commitment of the political establishment to Brexit. The ridiculous and unnecessary election and its result has inflamed calls to remain and ignore the wishes of the British people and the rhetoric is still not being matched by results with continued prevarication on the way forward.

FFL  have challenged and brought the issues below to the fore but so far, all we have had is words not action –

  • The London Fisheries Convention 1964 – there is a manifesto commitment but the 2 years notice that should have been given to concur with Article 50 has still not been served and there is now a danger of an overlap of continued EU access to UK waters on withdrawal.
  • The Great Repeal Bill proposes to adopt all EU law including the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy into UK law. If we are leaving the CFP, why run the risk of adopting it? Despite highlighting that adopting EU law would bind Britain to them under international treaty law the government ploughs ahead to a diplomatic disaster regardless.
  •  The deliberately ambiguous wording of the Conservative manifesto which means the UK would only “exercise sovereign control” waters only to 12 miles not the full 200 or midline limit.

Fishing will be one of the acid tests of the success of Brexit. FFL will continue to go forward and hope that the election leads to a fulfilment not a cop-out. Brexit and the will of the people cannot be backslid on post-election.

It is disconcerting the political establishment is now at fever pitch for “soft”/No Brexit. We are in perilous territory and after a discussion FFL are considering further demonstrations to ensure the politicians fulfil the will of our industry and country.

We will take whatever action necessary. Should there be a backsliding, we’ll be back up the Thames to bring London to a halt!