Hopefully it’s confusion rather than betrayal

Michael Gove’s comments to Danish fishermen about access to UK waters after Brexit have attracted some adverse criticism. We have not been provided with a full record of his actual words and it is quite likely he has been misquoted. Furthermore, he has only been in the job a few weeks and there is a lot of detail for him to take on board.

The same cannot be said for the Civil Servants of DEFRA, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who should know better, A statement by one of their spokesman is therefore far more of a cause for concern than Mr Gove’s comments in Denmark. The spokesman said:-

“Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our territorial waters. As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our waters – but for the first time in 50 years it will be on our terms and under our control…..We will allocate quotas on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, making sure we have a healthy marine environment and profitable fishing industry in the UK.”

The fishing industry has always been concerned that the Government will only allow British vessels the exclusive use of the 12 nautical mile zone – in other words, out territorial waters. This is  what the DEFRA statement has indicated and the recent the Conservative manifesto said the same thing. Taking the DEFRA statement at face value, it would appear that arrangements regarding our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covering the area from 12 nautical miles up to 200 nautical miles/median line will continue as at present. This means that EU vessels will continue to take around 59% of the British people’s resource and the failed quota system will continue. Is this really what Mr Gove has in mind?

So why did the department use the word “Territorial”?

This is where confusion is creeping in. This doesn’t apply just to fishing but right across the whole range of Brexit-related issues. The public is stating to get restless and are wondering whether those at the top know what they are doing or else fear that they are deceiving us again. This is unhealthy, and proves once again the importance of detail.

Consequentially, Gove, probably for no fault of his own, will be under pressure now not only to explain his own comments but also the actions of his department. The burden on Gove’s shoulders cannot be exaggerated. The survival of the Government  – and indeed, the Conservative party – could rest in his hands. If the EEZ is traded away, then Brexit isn’t Brexit. DEFRA may state, “it will be on our terms and under our control”, but if the existing quota system of the CFP is used, the expected benefits will not materialise. Life after Brexit has to be a success for our fishing industry, not a continuation of the present story of decline.

The confusion stems directly from the DEFRA statement – “As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our water”. There is nothing wrong with these words as all free and independent fishing nations have reciprocal arrangements with their neighbours. Under international Law, UNCLOS3 article 62(2) states that if you haven’t the fishing capacity to take the resource, the amount you can’t catch can be given to your neighbours. The problem here is the civil servants will have advised Gove that we haven’t the capacity, whereas in reality we have.

The confusion centres around this word “Territorial.” UNCLOS3 has different rules for the territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coastline and the Exclusive Economic Zone reaching out to 200 nautical miles/median line zone.

No one is saying that we should throw all EU vessels out on 30th March 2019, but no permanent rights must be given, only temporary transitional rights on a declining annual basis. What is vital, however, is that we need to know whether DEFRA is making the common mistake of using the term “Territorial waters”  when it actually means EEZ or whether it really does mean that we will only control the 12 nautical mile limit.

If so, it would be a shameful betrayal of our fishermen on a par with Fisheries Minister Peter Walker, who told Parliament in January 1983 – “the reality is that if the UK, instead of demanding anything like the historic proportions of Europe’s fish that it had caught, demanded a 200 mile limit and 50% or 60 % of Europe’s fish, that would mean the destruction of the fishing industries of most of our friends and partners in western Europe”.

Unfortunately the attitude that fishermen in other countries come before our own still prevails in some quarters. Thankfully, in Michael Gove, we have a person who has hit the deck running and is prepared to listen and learn. He has already shown in denouncing the London Convention  that he is someone who can and will take action. Ultimately, it is the job of civil servants to implement, not decide policy, so we can but hope that when Mr Gove really has his feet under the table that there will be a change of tone from DEFRA.

The way his Danish visit has been reported in the press will also underline to him how important it is for his department to issue clear, unambiguous statements, leaving no room for confusion over a very delicate subject.

Michael Gove’s Appointment – 200 mile Clarity Crucial

Fishing for Leave welcomes Michael Gove’s appointment as Secretary of State for Defra.

Press officer Alan Hastings said “FFL are happy given his family connections to fishing and his Brexit credentials and hope he does both justice”.

“Although Defra is not Mr Gove’s previous specialty his intellectual capacity should surmount not having had the Defra brief before, and we look forward to working with and engaging with him to bring him up to speed on one of the acid tests of Brexit”.

“Fishing can be a £6.3bn beacon of success for Brexit and can exorcise the betrayal by Edward Heath”.

“We must realise the opportunity to automatically repatriate all our waters and resources and to rejuvenate coastal communities with bespoke British policy that husbands our unique ecology, works for all fishermen and ends the policy of discards”.

“This opportunity cannot be squandered for the status quo to appease a minority of vested interests and the EU”.

FFL sounded a warning that, the deliberately ambiguous wording of the Conservative manifesto to describe the waters we will take back control of says those we have “historically exercised sovereign control. This deliberate choice of words can only mean out to 12 miles”.

“When international limits were extended to 200 miles Britain was already bound to the Common Fisheries Policy and therefore the EU automatically took control of our extended fishing limits”.

“Although the previous Secretary of State said the manifesto meant all UK waters Mrs Leadsom is now gone.

“It is now necessary for clarity and closure that Mr Gove and the Prime Minister commit to the entire UK EEZ out to 200miles or the midline”.

“We hope and wish Mr Gove every success in realising the opportunity for a triumph of Brexit and look forward to meeting with him to help ensure this happens”.

The Government will fail the first Brexit test by not scrapping the London Convention

Release: Immediate

 

Words: 382

Contact: Alan Hastings – 07827 399 408

Fishing for Leave recently highlighted the immediate need for the government to denounce the London Convention.

DexEU and DEFRA’s response that “in regard to historical access to waters, no decisions have yet been taken on the UK’s position” and that “we endeavour to reach an agreement…. by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded”  is pitiful and suggests they have no intention of acting.

As lovely as it was to hear the government reiterate its position of caring for our fishing and coastal communities their response scarcely backs this rhetoric.

The London Convention must be denounced now to secure all access to our waters and obtain the strongest possible diplomatic hand.

This Convention gives historic rights for European vessels to fish in UK waters but only between 6 and 12 nautical miles from our shores.

Failing to scrap this Convention would allow the EU ‘back door’ access to this narrow strip as the convention will still apply to the UK upon withdrawal.

As the Convention requires two years notice it must be denounced immediately, and before Article 50 is triggered, to avoid an overlap allowing EU access to UK waters.

For 8 months there has only been rhetoric and no results. The government is well aware of this issue and their failure to act suggests they have no intention of securing our rich fishing waters.

Why are they not fully committed to securing this strong hand by controlling all access?

If the government does not act immediately on this easy and simple test of Brexit then it evidently has no intention of making a serious stand. The government and MP’s are about to fail this first test on Brexit.

It would show the opportunity of automatic repatriation of an industry, that could double to be worth approximately £6.3bn annually, is to be betrayed a second time. Fisheries will symbolise whether we’ve “taken back control of our borders” and will therefore be the “acid test” of Brexit.

The government must serve notice to denounce this Convention immediately. To demonstrate that it really does intend to repatriate and safeguard the nation’s greatest renewable resource.

If it does not then it looks like we’re going to have a backslide and betrayal of Brexit and that the government is all mouth and no trousers.

There is still time to lobby your MP to act on this – if you want to see our fishing grounds secured please send the letter in this link to them – http://www.ffl.org.uk/letter-to-mp/