The London Convention and the future for UK fisheries

Time is not on our side. The acid test of whether ”Brexit means Brexit” is Fisheries. While there is no doubt that competency will return from Brussels back to Westminster when we leave, there is a real danger that the Government will run a parallel CFP in everything but name, continuing to give away 59% of the British living marine resource – in other words, the EU continuing to take 674,601 tons of fish out of our waters, at raw prices of £711,224,000.
 
The other important issue which needs to be considered is the 1964 London Convention. On Brexit day, when the EU regulations cease to apply, the London Convention will regain its force unless we act quickly. It is important to note that this is British legislation and nothing to do with the EU, apart from it being a sop to the French – a forlorn hope that it would change General De Gaulle’s mind in allowing Britain to join the then EEC. It granted five EU member substantial fishing rights within our 6 to 12 nautical mile zone, although France was by far the main beneficiary.
 
Under the terms of the Convention, after 1986, we can denounce the agreement by giving two years notice, so we need to do so at the same time as invoking article 50, as that is highly likely to be also a two year period. It would be ridiculous to find ourselves stuck with other Nations’ fishing vessels still able to fish in this narrow, but crucial inshore sector, even if only for a short period.
The Government is fully aware of this situation, but if they do nothing and allow these rights to continue, the five nations could possibly build up continuity rights, making it difficult to remove at a later date. This is as important as avoiding a shadow CFP to cover the 12 to 200 nautical mile zone. If the government fails on both these counts – an there are concerns that it might do without pressure being applied – we will face a repeat of the disaster of 1973, with the British people’s resource sacrificed a second time , increasing the decline within our coastal communities.
 
Not only that but once we appreciate that the boundary of the UK is the outer edge of our 200 nautical mile fishing zone. or median line and not, as is widely believed, the land boundary, we would effectively be losing three quarters of the UK. Given the government’s determination to control immigration – i.e., who sets foot on our land – it would be totally illogical to deny ourselves the right to control which fishing vessels may access our waters.
 
What is more, a failure to denounce the London Agreement or to replace the CFP with something totally different would open a legal minefield. The original London Agreement was vessel-specific and it is highly unlikely that any fishing boat covered by it is still in commercial use fifty years later, but any attempt to dismiss it as irrelevant for this reason would unquestionably be challenged in court. The fisheries regulation 1380/2013 is full of references to “union waters” and other terminology which assumes an EU of 28 countries including the UK, which will not be the case on Brexit day. So many changes would be needed to “repatriate” this regulation that it makes no sense to do so. We have time during the Article 50 period to devise something much simpler and better, based on the Faroese system and allowing only limited access to our waters for vessels of other EU member states using UNCLOS 3 as our guidelines here.     
 
There is no escaping the issue. On Brexit day, the UK – on other words, every single individual Westminster MP, is responsible under Intentional Law, for our managing our waters right up to the 200 nautical mile/median line limit. If they decide to give it away again, the responsibility for doing so, lies totally on their shoulders.
 
There is still everything to play for, but the subject of fishing will set the tone of Brexit. After Article 50 – and hopefully at the same time, the denouncing of  the London Convention – the next stage will be the scrutiny of the Great Repeal Bill in May to see what alterations they have done to the acquis coming into domestic legislation. Hopefully fisheries will be exempt, but to date the situation is not looking good.
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8 comments

  1. Carole BurtonReply

    Thank you for this very informative article which brought to my attention things I was not aware of, such as the 1964 London Convention. There has been a deafening silence about Fisheries in the media before and since the referendum (except perhaps in coastal areas) and it needs to be addressed. Apart from the obvious benefits, the regaining of our waters would also be a symbolic gesture. Our fishing industry was shamelessly sacrificed by Ted Heath in order to gain entry into Europe and the government must not be allowed to do it all over again..

  2. Jason BarkerReply

    I could not agree more with Carole. It is a very interesting article that must be brought to the attention of our MP’s. I only posted a letter on Saturday to my local paper in response to another that was trying to hype up the EU. I did mention the fishing. Living miles from the sea, it occured to me that many, many similiar folk could well not realise the great demise that has happened to this once great industry. I mentioned : “The people gave a Brexit mandate, the government have granted it. The majority wanted to regain our Independence, Sovereignty, Identity and nationhood. …….Will we in time be in the same position pre-1973 regarding our now depleted fishing industry, and rebuild the fishing industry with jobs and proper self control of our seas and borders?” This article from John Ashworth has come timely in giving further response. I will forward details to my MP.

  3. david bartropReply

    I too am worried that fishing could be lost despite the obvious benefits that everyone except the EU lovers can see. It should become obvious to even the Liberal Democrats that they cannot continue to try to be in the EU.It is a fait accompli, and they should move forward. The lies/ misinformation continues,the rest of the world is a greater market in total than the EU, and we don’t have much trade with it mainly because we were not allowed to!
    David Bartrop

  4. Ian H.ThainReply

    In the 70s I was in the Marine Electronics trade and drove regularly around the nation’s fishing ports where my dealers were located. It was heart-breaking to see harbours full of boats tied up that should have been at sea catching fish.

    I don’t trust Parliament to do anything properly. The French farmers used to make a lot of trouble for us; perhaps it’s time now that the EU heard from the British fishermen?

  5. Gordon WebsterReply

    I still maintain that The EU has no validity in International Law, since it breaches two or more Articles in The Vienna Convention on The Law of Treaties. As for The EU’s control over Britain, as Gerald Batten pointed out in his book, it only exists in The European Communities Act. Once that is repealed, the Great Repeal Bill can remove any, and all, Directives which have been passed into British Law separately.
    However given Heath’s surrender of our Fishing Grounds with a “who cares about Fishing,” throwaway, then I hold out little hope that the Tory attitude has changed. It is said that Mrs Thatcher happily gave away our Engineering and Shipbuilding, because she couldn’t stand or understand the noise, or the need for people to work. Fishing must return fully to British Control, if we are to have sustainable fishing, and see an end to European Boats using fine mesh nets.
    Does the Government care? That is another matter.

  6. Adam HileyReply

    by getting rid of the 3 failed old Parties will Britain then thrive leave the EU & ECHR unilaterally the Tories are making a hash of such a simple measure and that is to withdraw unilaterally

  7. Walter LeadbetterReply

    I too share the concerns raised by the above comments: the government of the day let decimated the British fishing industry and we look as though we are blindly (or, perhaps, not so blindly) going to do the same again in the negotiations which I hope will begin on schedule. I also read with concern that the EU Parliament was debating that Britain remaining in the CFP must be a necessary condition for a deal with the EU. My position is clear, if we have to trade by World Trade Organization rules then so be it … I don’t think we have anything to fear. No, I don’t have any expertise on this but I prefer to believe economists such as Patrick Minford rather than those which were rolled out during Project Fear. I very much regret that there appears to be no way to pressure the government to make a red line of the fishing issue. I also fear that government’s desire to get a deal with the EU will lead to our leaders accepting conditions which the majority of Leave voters would consider invidious!

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