Any betrayal of our fishermen will have serious electoral consequences

Fishing for Leave’s John Ashworth explains why electoral considerations mean that British fishermen will not be sold out to the EU once again.

British fishermen have not had much reason for happiness since we joined the EEC. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been an ecological disaster and has run our industry into the ground. But last week’s Conservative Party Conference at last gave some glimmers of hope for the future.

The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, gave us a much-needed reminder of just what is at stake with Brexit – nothing less than our very ability to govern ourselves:

‘At 11pm on 29 March 2019 we will leave the European Union.

‘And soon thereafter, in an extraordinary moment in our history, the EU institutions will no longer have the right to make laws for our country. That power will belong exclusively to the sovereign Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘That is a precious prize.’

It is indeed. It means that every single individual MP will become fully responsible for the governance of our nation, something which for 46 years has been missing.

And so how will we use this new-found sovereignty for the benefit of our agriculture and fisheries? The Prime Minister made the goal quite clear in her party conference speech:

‘Our proposal would be good for our rural communities, getting us out of the Common Agricultural Policy.

‘It would be good for our coastal communities. We would be out of the Common Fisheries Policy, an independent coastal state once again.

‘And with the UK’s biggest fishing fleets based in Scotland, let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon. You claim to stand up for Scotland, but you want to lock Scottish fishermen into the CFP forever. That’s not ‘Stronger for Scotland’, it’s a betrayal of Scotland.’

It is high time that someone from another political party took Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to task on this subject. But it also nails Mrs May’s colours to the mast. If the Conservative government lets our fishermen down, then the SNP will be able to make the same accusation with a vengeance.

And were it not for all those newly gained Scottish Westminster parliamentary seats, Mrs May would not be prime minister now – all down to the fishing issue.

We can be certain of the following. If the EU believes there is going to be a ‘no deal’, it will raise the issue of EU access to British waters. The ball will be in their court: they will have to ask the UK.

If there is silence from the EU on fishing rights, then we can expect a deal – however bodged – so that both parties can move into the transitional period. And the EU will continue to benefit from access to UK waters via its present fisheries policy until 1 January 2021.

Remainers are fond of saying that the fishing issue is too small to bother with, and will be bartered away. I disagree. Like the Northern Ireland border, it will be a key issue, just as it was on accession. This time, British fishermen will not be so easy to sell down the river.

We have less than five months to prevent the annihilation of our fishing fleet

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has decimated our fishing fleet. We have less than five months to save it from total annihilation, writes CIB Deputy Chairman Philip Foster.

When Heath betrayed British fishermen as a condition (among many) of joining the EEC, very few at the time noticed what was being done. The EEC had managed, just a few weeks before Heath signed up, to extract a new clause about fishing waters from the Treaty of Rome. But because, in order to disguise this theft, Heath had negotiated a derogation of ten years, this duplicity went unremarked upon.

Some forty years on, and after some thirty years of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), we see the British fishing fleet decimated, coastal towns in steep decline, and the seas around Britain – now EU rather than British waters – severely over-fished. Worse, those scientists charged with monitoring the state of the fisheries are unable to do so as they have no reliable data about fish stocks. Why? Because of the CFP.

As is now well known, the CFP involved quotas of catch. If a fisherman caught more than his quota, the excess was simply dumped overboard to rot in the sea. Hence only data about what was actually landed reached the scientists – useless information because of the unknown quantity of discards.

But, you may well say, when we leave we get our waters back, so all this can be reversed.

Once again our duplicitous politicians are betraying us. During the two year ‘transition period’ after 29 March 2019 our fishing fleets will be exterminated.

There is to be a new CFP in 2019. This appears to reverse the previous CFP which, as has finally dawned on Brussels, involved huge discards of millions of tons of good fish. So what have these paragons of intelligence come up with? The new CFP will ban discards!

Sounds good? Er, no. On the new system, quotas remain as before, but now, if you catch your quota of any one species, you must return to port, because were you to carry on, you might catch more of that species which would have to be discarded – which is now forbidden.

This will be ruinous to any fishing company in the UK where our quotas are small anyway. Suppose you have quotas for say, (and I write as a landsman!) haddock, cod, herring and mackerel. Once you have your quota of any one (your ‘choke’ species), you must return to port.

If the UK starts this policy, which it must during the two year ‘transition’, then our fishing fleet will be bankrupted in six months. We will be left with no fleet at all.

Then comes the final twist of the knife. Once we have no fleet, Clause 62.2 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) comes into effect. This, in effect, says that if a nation does not have the capacity to catch all its available resources it must give the surplus to its neighbours.

So if the EU can destroy our fleet in the ‘transition period’, then they’ve every reason to use this article to claim what we can no longer catch. There will be no going back in the foreseeable future.

Talk to or write to your MP, and spell out this disaster coming down the track. Sadly, too few MPs understand that fish doesn’t come from supermarkets, but from the sea.

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For further information, see our booklet Seizing the Moment by John Ashworth, and visit our affiliate member Fishing for Leave.

Photo credit: Fishing boat at Cruit Island near bridge
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Joseph Mischyshyn

Is May for turning on Chequers? Conservative Party Conference report

CIB committee member, political scientist Dr Anna Bailey, reports on the Conservative Party Conference. Was there any sign that Chequers could be chucked?

The fringe was king at this year’s Conservative Party Conference. While the regular ministerial speeches in the main hall were poorly attended, Brexit-related fringe events were packed to the rafters.

Even queuing an hour or more in advance did not guarantee entry. Sunday’s Brexit Central rally saw delegates queuing out of the building for a chance to hear Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Brexiteers. A lucky 300 made it inside, while a similar number were turned away.

In many ways, this was a pleasing development. The active fringe showcased the lively intellectual movement that Brexit now enjoys, with think tanks, backbench MPs – and yes, even some ministers – brimming with ideas on how the UK can utilise the opportunities offered by its post-Brexit sovereignty.

Just as importantly, delivering a meaningful Brexit was clearly top of the agenda for regular party members. There can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Conservative grassroots delegates were not only firmly committed to Brexit, but also decisively opposed to Chequers.

There was a widespread awareness among grassroots members that the so-called ‘common rulebook’ would prevent the UK regaining sovereignty in any meaningful sense. ‘Chuck Chequers’ badges and stickers were widely worn. Once you were wearing one, other delegates would approach you enthusiastically and ask where they could get their own.

The problem, of course, is that today’s Conservative Party is the least internally democratic of any UK political party, a point devastatingly made by the Campaign for Conservative Democracy at the Brexit Advance Coalition’s Alternative Conference event.

Even the near-universal support of party members for a Brexit that restores full UK sovereignty does not count for much in terms of realpolitik. The membership has little to no influence over the party leadership or MPs. No wonder the Conservative Party now has fewer members than the SNP.

Listening to Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab on the fringe was revealing, if rather painful. Despite his valiant efforts to remain relaxed and upbeat, Raab was clearly struggling to find a way of tiptoeing through the minefield of not criticising May or Chequers, while also avoiding contradicting his own true Brexiteer preferences (which, I strongly suspect, are to abandon Chequers and pursue a free trade deal). As a consequence, he was able to say very little of substance.

Raab has faced a lot of criticism from Brexiteers who feel he has sold out his principles by backing Chequers to further his career. Personally, I take a more charitable view. It is vital that we have a Brexiteer in the post of Brexit Secretary as a bulwark against Brexit being diluted still further. I hope and believe that Raab is not a sell-out, but is gallantly sacrificing his reputation and principles to the cause.

So what will happen now? Has anything changed as a result of the conference?

We certainly didn’t see the fireworks or a large-scale challenge to Mrs May that some predicted. The European Research Group (ERG), which is estimated to enjoy the support of around 70 Conservative MPs, had a clear tactic. Convince Theresa May to abandon Chequers in favour of seeking a ‘Canada+++’ free trade deal, rather than seek to overthrow May herself.

At fringe event after fringe event, ERG MPs bent over backwards to avoid criticising May personally. They were scrupulous in only playing the ball (Chequers), not the player (May). If she wanted an opportunity to move away from Chequers while not losing any authority as leader, it was there for the taking.

It was noticeable that May carefully avoided using the word ‘Chequers’ in her conference speech. However, there is nothing to suggest that this was anything other than her abandoning a toxic brand, rather than a signal of policy change.

We know from Tim Shipman’s excellent book Fall Out that May’s modus operandi is to isolate herself from her ministers and the parliamentary party as a whole, and plough stubbornly on in ‘splendid isolation’.

Reports today suggest that government whips are lining up Labour MPs to cancel out ERG opposition to Chequers and push it through parliament. It would appear that, rather than using conference as an opportunity to listen and change course, May has just treated it as a hurdle to be overcome.

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For anyone who would like to catch up on the best of the fringe events at Conservative Party Conference, head over to our Facebook page. We have posted numerous livestreams of Brexit-related fringe events, courtesy of CIB affiliate member The Bruges Group.

LESC: We must avoid committing ourselves to paying large sums of money to the EU

The Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign (LESC) has warned that the UK must avoid committing itself to paying large sums of money to the EU, which would have to be met even if the main negotiations on a Withdrawal Agreement broke down.

In its September 2018 Bulletin, published here on our website, LESC reviews the choices facing the UK as the Brexit negotiations move towards their conclusion.

LESC recommends that, given the ongoing uncertainty – both as to what the EU will agree to and what Parliament would accept – we must prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario. In the meantime, however, we need to make sure that we are not pushed into obligations, especially over very large sums of money, which we would have to meet even if the main negotiations broke down.

Labour needs to be very careful not to be complicit in generating an outcome where the UK has a legal obligation to pay £39bn but we still finish up with ‘no deal’. It also needs to avoid alienating key sections of the Party’s traditional support by taking an intransigently Remain stance during the difficult negotiating period which lies ahead.

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LESC was formed after the 1975 referendum, to continue to make the Labour case that the UK should withdraw from the Common Market. It is a long-term affiliated member of the Campaign for an Independent Britain. For more information, please visit the LESC website.

Catch up with us at the Conservative Party Conference

CIB committee member, political scientist Dr Anna Bailey, will be at the Conservative Party Conference this week keeping a keen eye on all things Brexit. Dr Bailey has recently taken on responsibility for running the CIB website and Facebook page, and over the coming months will be implementing a strategy to expand our reach and influence. If you spot her at either the official conference, or the Brexit Advance Alternative Conference, please do pop over and say hello. We’re always keen to catch up with our members – and of course to encourage new members to join!

Dr Bailey will be at the following events:

…plus a variety of other Brexit-related fringe events.

Labour Party Conference report: Is Labour becoming the ‘Remain Party’?

Labour Leave’s John Mills reports for CIB on the Labour Party Conference. Is the Labour Party in danger of becoming the ‘Remain Party’?

Perhaps the most crucial issue for the Labour Party at the moment is its attitude to Brexit, as was evident at its recent Annual Conference.

The problem can be simply stated. Probably 90% of the delegates at the Conference were Remain supporters, most of whom, while cheering on Sir Kier Starmer, would like the UK to stay in the EU. Not far short of this percentage of Labour MPs are Remain orientated as well. This enthusiasm for the EU is not, however, reflected to anything like the same extent among Labour voters.

Of the 9.3m people who voted Labour in the 2015 general election, polls indicate that almost 3.5m voted Leave in 2016. This had a lot to do with the fact that almost 70% of the seats held at the time by Labour had Leave majorities.

The risks of Labour alienating these Labour leaning Leave voters were amply demonstrated again in the 2017 election. Although the vote for Labour rose by about 4m compared to 2015, increasing from 29% to 40% of the votes cast, Labour only gained four more seats while 130 Labour held constituencies had swings away from Labour to other parties. Remain votes piled up in London and other university cities, such as Canterbury, but drifted away in Wales, the Midlands and the North of England where Labour holds marginal seats crucial for the Party if it is ever to become the government again.

The key lesson for Labour to learn from these figures is that for it to become the Remain party is fraught with problems. This prospect may keep Conference delegates happy, but it risks Labour haemorrhaging votes in key areas of the country which it needs to win. This is why Labour Leave and others campaigned before and during the Conference for Labour not to commit itself to a Remain leaning second referendum.

We in Labour Leave are evidently not the only people who are aware of the dangers of Labour adopting too Europhile a stance. The Labour leadership is clearly conscious of the risks that this entails, which is why, in the end, the line was held. Labour is committed to keeping all options open, but not to campaigning for Remain.

Of course, no-one knows how events ae going to pan out over the coming crucial months, running up to the end of March 2019, when we are due to leave the European Union. In the meantime, however, keeping the Labour Party aware of the dangers of committing itself to policies generally to do with the EU which may make look totally inappropriate when the time comes to implement them, must make sense. High on this list is committing the Party to supporting having a second referendum which the pubic do not want, which would be highly undemocratic, and which may turn out to be impractical for a variety of political, timing and administrative reasons, especially if it could not be held before the date when we leave the EU,

In the difficult months ahead, Labour needs to think a lot more strategically than just pandering to the Remain sentiments of the delegates who were at the Labour Party Conference.