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.

Conservative Manifesto – PM May Fail on Fishing

Fisheries: Oral questions following the Prime Minister’s statement

Following on from Mrs May’s announcement last week that Article 50 had finally been triggered, it was encouraging to note how many oral and written questions on the subject of fisheries were asked. Equally encouraging were the answers from the Prime Minister. We are still some way off from any definitive statement about future fisheries policies, but there seems to be a growing recognition of the problems that would ensue by transposing fisheries Regulation 1380/2013 onto the UK statute books.   Here are the questions and answers in full, with my observations and comments in italics:-

 ORAL QUESTIONS

(1) Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for and congratulate her on resolutely sticking to her promise to the British people to trigger article 50 before the end of March? There will be celebrations all around the country, nowhere more so than in our remote coastal communities, where the health and wealth of our fishing grounds has been trashed by the common fisheries policy. To re-establish fully our national control of the full exclusive economic zone, we will have to abrogate our membership of the 1964 London convention on fisheries, which requires two years’ notice. Does my right hon. Friend intend to trigger that soon?

The Prime Minister

I know that my right hon. Friend has always had a particular interest in the impact of the common fisheries policy, and he has looked at that issue very carefully. We are looking very carefully at the London fisheries convention and at what action needs to be taken. He is right that this would require two years, but we of course expect to conclude the deal with the European Union within two years and there will then, as I have indicated, be an implementation period beyond that particular time. We hope to be able to say something about the London fisheries convention soon

(At least we have confirmation that they know all about London convention – JA)

(2) Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)

On what is a genuinely historic day for our country, may I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and to the Brexit Ministers for their determination and dedication in getting to this stage today to implement the will of the British people? Does she agree that one area on which we should be able to move forward very quickly in negotiations is getting back control of our fishing grounds?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, mentioned the London fisheries convention. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at this issue and we hope to be able to say something soon. As we look at the whole raft of negotiations, we will be looking at policies that affect not just trade in goods and services, but agriculture and fisheries here in the United Kingdom, and security and crime. We will be looking particularly at the London fisheries convention in due course

(Further confirmation that Fisheries are being looked into)

(3) Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)

For those of us who campaigned and voted for Brexit not just last year, but in 1975 this is a great day and one for celebration. Some 70% of my Cleethorpes constituents and of those in neighbouring Grimsby voted for Brexit last June, partly as a result of continuing anger and resentment at the sell-out of the fishing industry in the original negotiations. The Prime Minister has already reassured me that the fishing industry will be looked after, but the associated seafood industry is very much dependent on the fishing industry. I have already met industry leaders in my constituency who see both opportunities and concerns, so will she reassure me that the seafood processing industry will be a key part of the negotiations?

The Prime Minister

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we want to ensure not only that we get a good future for our fishing industry, but that those parts of industry that rely on fishing will also have a good future here in the UK. We will be taking that into account.

(This looks as if they are keen to address the concerns of fishermen, but do they fully understand the pitfalls?)

(4) Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con)

I welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to a positive, constructive and respectful approach to the negotiations that lie ahead. May I press her further on behalf of the fishing community in my constituency and around the United Kingdom? She will know that in the past these people have been badly let down during negotiations, so ​will she give an equally clear commitment that the fishing community will receive a sufficiently high priority during the negotiations ahead?

The Prime Minister

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we are very conscious of the needs of the fishing industry. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been talking to the fishing industry. The Secretary of State and others have been looking carefully at the arrangements that will need to be put in place in the interests of the fishing industry, and that will be an important part of our considerations in future.

(I would love to know exactly who within the fishing industry they  have been talking to!)

WRITTEN QUSTIONS

(1) Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which EU fishery regulations will be transferred to domestic legislation through the Great Repeal Bill.

George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are currently analysing all EU fisheries legislation. No decision has yet been made on the extent to which the EU legislation governing the Common Fisheries Policy will be incorporated into domestic law.

The Government remains fully committed to controlling and managing UK waters after we leave the EU in accordance with our rights and obligations under international law.

We are considering the issue of the London Fisheries Convention carefully to ensure we have full control of UK waters after we leave the EU and, as the Prime Minister said on 29th March 2017, we hope to be able to say something about it soon

(2) Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

To ask Her Majesty’s Government under what arrangements vessels of other EU member states fish in UK waters between the six and 12 nautical mile limits; and by what process those arrangements could be terminated.

 Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Under Article 5 (2) of Council Regulation 1380/2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy, and the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, vessels from Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland have access to fish in the UK’s six to twelve nautical mile zone.

In order to withdraw from the London Convention signatories must give two years notice

(3) Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

To ask Her Majesty’s Government under what arrangements vessels of other EU member states fish in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone between the 12 and 200 nautical mile limits; and by what process those arrangements could be terminated.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy regime vessels from EU Member States have access to fisheries in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the 12 and 200 nautical mile limit. When it leaves the EU, the UK will control access to fisheries in its EEZ and will manage its waters in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Time to call MEPs’ bluff

 

Last week, an article in the Guardian painted a bleak picture of the prospects for the UK fishing industry after Brexit:- “The hopes of British fishermen that the UK can win its “waters back” after Brexit are expected to be dashed by the European parliament, despite the campaign promises of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, a leaked EU document reveals.

MEPs have drafted seven provisions to be included in Britain’s “exit agreement”, including the stipulation that there will be “no increase to the UK’s share of fishing opportunities for jointly fished stocks [maintaining the existing quota distribution in UK and EU waters]”.

The document, obtained by the Guardian, adds that in order for the UK and EU to keep to commitments on sustainable fishing – contained within the United Nations stocks agreement – “it is difficult to see any alternative to the continued application of the common fisheries policy”

It is time for those MEPs to read Article 50, which they as a Parliament, and each EU member state have twice endorsed. While it is correct that where you have two nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that adjoin one another you will have a straddling stock and the percentage share-out is agreed on the basis of the total allowable catch within each EEZ, it is totally wrong is to suggest to any degree that the share allocated to the British EEZ has to be shared out between the EU and the UK as at present.

Section 3 of Article 50 states “The treaties shall cease to apply to the state in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement, or failing that, two years after the notification Or failing that, if there is no agreement,  the treaties – including regulations – shall cease to apply two years after notice has been given.”

Going back to section 2 of Article 50, it says  “the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with the state”. It does not say that the leaving Nation has to negotiate.

Of course the MEPs are going to try it on. They don’t want to lose out taking a British resource for free, as they have been doing for over 40 years. Taking the phrase “the Union shall negotiate”, they want things to remain as they are  – in other words, as far as the UK is concerned, a shadow CFP. However, the main straddling stocks are located in the North Sea and English Channel, where our EEZ in that area is larger than the EU one. This implies that the EU should follow our policy, not that we should follow theirs – i. e, maintain the CFP.

The MEPs stress that we must abide by International law – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS3).  Actually, we would agree with this as sections 55 to 75 clearly lay out the guidelines for operating an EEZ. At one second past the two-year period stipulated under Article 50, competency and control reverts to Westminster. We return to the Fishery Limits 1976 Act and its amendments, which accepts the guidelines of UNCLOS3. This states that the marine resources within the British EEZ belongs to the British people. The EU and its MEPs in particular have no say in the management of our own EEZ post-Brexit.

To repeat, international law bestows the responsibility of the British EEZ of 200 nautical mile/median line zone solely onto the UK Government.

In order to prevent an overnight collapse of EU fleets by excluding them totally from day one from our waters, under UNCLOS3 Section 62,  we can make a generous offer in the negotiations. We could allow EU vessels a limited right to fish in UK waters on a decreasing transitional basis – to fish the overcapacity of our resource until we build up our own fleet.

So whatever the Guardian‘s source may say, while the MEPs can huff and puff as much as they wish, there is nothing they can do about it. The only way they can achieve their desire would be if a weak UK government capitulates and creates a British fishing policy based on the CFP for the British EEZ. In other words, giving the EU what they want and repeating Edward Heath’s betrayal of our fishermen. They must not cave in to pressure and deny our coastal communities this lifeline after over four decades of EU-instigated decline