The great Brexit fisheries betrayal – it gets worse

Michael Gove and Theresa May between them are letting down our fishing industry when there is no need for them to do so. It seems that our Prime Minister is willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of thousands of men to save her skin after finding herself outplayed by the EU.

The parallels between Mrs May and her predecessor are becoming more apparent by the day. When David Cameron headed for Brussels to re-negotiate our membership in late 2015, it does appear that he genuinely believed that he could wring concessions out of the other 27 member states and come back with a deal which would be acceptable to the majority of the electorate. However, he set off with no well-thought out model in mind of how the UK could function in a semi-detached manner from Brussels – still within the EU but somehow pursuing a different path. Unsurprisingly, he got nowhere, only gaining a few minor cosmetic concessions rightly described by Jacob Rees-Mogg as “thin gruel“. Undeterred, Cameron ploughed on, tried to avoid admitting that his renegotiations had got nowhere, lost the referendum and resigned.

For Cameron’s “renegotiation”, read Theresa May’s “deep and special” relationship. From the start, it was based on wishful thinking with no clear idea either of the details of the relationship nor – and more  importantly – of how the EU works. Optimism that a trade deal would be easy to agree because of regulatory convergence soon dissipated as Michel Barnier repeatedly spelt out the EU’s intention to preserve the single market at all costs. Mrs May may not have realised what being a “third country” meant when she took over as Prime Minister and it is conceivable that the full implications still haven’t dawned on her, but she has been told in no uncertain terms that the EU is not going to give its former member preferential treatment.

What is more, having offered us thoroughly humiliating terms for any transitional period, the EU is already starting to talk tough about a final trading arrangement. All the indications are that in the critical area of fishing, she will roll over once again.

Just to remind ourselves, both Michael Gove and Mrs May consistently stated that we would leave the Common Fisheries Policy on 29th March 2019 and take back control of our Exclusive Economic Zone. However, the transitional deal does no such thing and both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove have been put on the defensive. Even after admitting that he had tamely surrendered on fishing, Mr Gove, questioned by the Lib Dem MP Alastair Carmichael, said:-

“There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.”

Other awkward questions have been deflected by saying “But we want to leave the CFP – and indeed the EU;  you don’t” or words to that effect. It is a smokescreen to disguise the betrayal of our fishermen. It is a complete myth that if we can endure 21 months of EU control of fisheries, all will be wonderful at the end of transitional period.  The EU’s new discard ban means that any fishermen who has used up his quota for just one species may not fish again that year. Fishing for Leave has not hid its anger. it intends to “mobilise and show our absolute disgust and heartbreak at our own government capitulating and sacrificing Britain’s fishing grounds and coastal communities to continued EU mismanagement.” Watch this space!

Of course, there is an element of points scoring by the other political parties who are making the most of the government’s discomfort on this subject, but it would be wrong to say that MPs like the SNP’s Brendan O’Hara of Argyll and Bute was acting purely from cynical motives when he said, “I strongly advise the Prime Minister to read SNP fishing policy before she comments on it, as she has it spectacularly wrong. Will she explain to the fishing communities of Argyll and Bute why she has agreed to a deal that keeps them in the CFP without a voice? Is that not the worst possible deal that her Government could have achieved for our fishing communities?”

He is quite correct – it is the worst possible deal. What has been overlooked by many commentators on this subject is the draft exit document contains the following in Article 125 part 4: “Without prejudice to article122(1) , the relative stability keys for the allocation of fishing opportunities referred to in paragraph 1 of this article shall be maintained.”

(Paragraph 1 relates to article 43(3) TFEU : The Council, on a proposal from the Commission, shall adopt measures on fixing prices, levies, aid and quantitative limitations and on the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities.)

The relative stability keys are an allocation percentage per EU country by species for the sharing out of the quotas. The paragraph above makes it clear that EU can change them, allowing them to take what they like out of UK waters. In that case, it will be of little consequence whether or not the EU  insists on access to UK waters as part of a long-term trade deal. there will be no fishing industry left in our country anyway.

Yet all Mrs May can say in the face of rising cross-party anger about the sell-out of our fishing industry is, by implication, to criticise the fishermen. She said “Although I recognise that not everyone will welcome the continuation of current trading terms for another ​21 months, such an implementation period has been widely welcomed by British business because it is necessary if we are to minimise uncertainty and deliver a smooth and successful Brexit.” Who else could she be referring to when mentioning those who will not welcome 21 months of the current trading terms?  Fishermen can clearly be sacrificed to keep everyone else happy. She also dodged a question from Jeremy Corbyn when he raised the subject as one of a number of questions about the government’s change of  tack over Brexit:-

Our coastal and fishing communities were told by the Environment Secretary only this month: “The Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP”— common fisheries policy— “as of March 2019.” Just a few weeks later, we find out that that will not be the case”, he said. The Prime Minister replied to some of his other comments but studiously ignored the issue of fishing.  

Our friends in Fishing for Leave have many years of campaigning experiences and do not intend to roll over.  Do not be deceived by the support from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation for this deal. This organisation represents those who have bought quota, not ordinary fishermen, who are absolutely livid.

It is possible that fishing could be the issue which provokes the crisis we have long been expecting. To repeat what we said then,   “it may require some senior heads to roll if the transitional blind alley is to be averted. it is a case of holding on to your hats.” Indeed; a Brexit which throws away what could have been a success story and sacrifices  thousands of UK jobs is no Brexit at all.

Fishing – Keep up the pressure!

Most readers will have head about Fishing for Leave’s demonstration against the surrender of our fishing industry outside Parliament yesterday. Although a much smaller scale event than the flotilla of fishing boats which sailed down the Thames in June 2016, a valid point was made.

Growing Parliamentary opposition to the surrender on fishing could scupper the whole transitional deal, which would  unquestionably be a good thing. In order to keep up the pressure on our MPs, if you haven’t already done so, please sign this petition and pass it on to your friends.

Fishing could be a real Brexit success story. It is an iconic industry and fishermen enjoy widespread public support, especially given their scandalous treatment since 1973 in order to join the European project. The Government has apparently been taken aback by the scale of the protest over the surrender on fishing. Sadly, as the linked article suggests, this suggests that “Theresa May’s team has never entirely “got” Brexit”. Perhaps, but this is no excuse for such an unnecessary sell-out and we must make it very clear to them that it is unacceptable.

 

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed

Before readers start getting too angry about the agreement between David Davis and Michel Barnier over the terms for an interim relationship with the EU, it must be pointed out that the handshake between the two men does not mean that everything is done and dusted.

The transitional arrangements are only part of an overall deal which have to be approved by the European institutions and national parliaments, including our own. We are still a long way from reaching this point.

On this website, we have already explained why the transitional terms on offer from the EU are unacceptable. It will be very hard to follow it with a truly clean break. We most certainly don’t need to be shackled to the EU’s customs union and any ongoing participation in the Common Fisheries policy would be the ruination of our fishing industry. Fishing for Leave didn’t mince its words in a recent press release – it is nothing less than a capitulation by a weak government.

Just to remind readers about our fisheries:- The UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles/median line was established by a British Act of Parliament – the Fishery Limits 1976 Act – but because of our membersip  of what was then the EEC, that zone was promptly handed over to the EEC, to become EEC/EU waters, right up to the low water mark, and the resource within that zone also became EEC/EU resource, managed by them and not us.

In 1983 the EU established the quota system, shared out amongst the member states by means of what is known as “relative stability keys”. These keys do change when a new member joins or one leaves.

At 11pm, 29th March 2019 the UK’s EEZ is returned to our Westminster Parliament, who must take full responsibility under the guidelines of International Law – UNCLOS3. At that moment all EU quota ceases to exist in the UK’s EEZ.

It is then down to the UK Government with the support from a majority of the Westminster parliamentarians how much of the British peoples resource they intend to give away. There is no negotiation as such.

The EU has no legal authority to demand anything, because in just over a year’s time, the UK will become an independent coastal state under third country status. Unfortunately, it seems that our government is willing to concede to demands which the EU has no right to make.

There is hope that the deal may yet be torpedoed. The Committee for Exiting the European Union could not come to an agreement on a report not about the transitional deal per se but extending it. Jacon Rees-Mogg, in his characteristically eloquent manner,  called the majority report (which he and six colleagues refused to sign) a  “prospectus for the vassal state”.  He also called the its authors the “High priests of Remain”. Mr Rees-Mogg also fired a shot across the bows of Theresa May in an article for the Daily Telegraph. “The United Kingdom will not accept being a subservient state” he said. “In the case of tariffs, once we have left the EU, it is non-negotiable that our trade minister should be able to respond to any threat of increased tariffs from other nations as suits our national interest, not the EU’s,” He went on to add “In the words of one country’s frustrated trade negotiator, Britain has to decide if it is a serious country or a joke nation. It would be humiliating for others to have cause to think thus of us.”

Trade issues are not the only cause for concern. Since the Brexit vote, our government has signed a number of agreements with the EU on military cooperation, without consulting Parliament. The details can be found on the Veteran for Britain website, which we would thoroughly recommend to anyone wishing to follow this subject in greater detail. This article in particular warns of the potential dangers that will result from this and it seems that  ministers have indicated they intend to make the UK’s role in the agreements permanent via the exit treaty. The Government’s published negotiation aims include a proposal to stay in the European Defence Fund and defence industrial programme. This essentially means that we, as a free country, will be ceding our defence to an organisation we voted to leave.

On another key issue, the European Arrest Warrant, one concerned correspondent wrote to his MP about its dangers, which are well- reported on this website, only to be told that we were intending to stay a signatory of  the EAW and that was that.

To end where we began: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The battle is not lost yet, but our government, whether through incompetence, deceit, spinelessness or all three, is not delivering the Brexit for which we voted. As a democracy, we are given the chance to tell our politicians what we think of them. We in CIB will ensure that they will get the message well before the next General election – indeed, well before any deal is ready for signing. Recent developments are discouraging, but for the good of the country we love, the fight must and will go on. Sadly it appears that our real enemies are not in Brussels (let alone Moscow) but in Westminster and Whitehall.

Why are we forsaken?

A Heartfelt Letter by Fishermen Who Feel Forsaken

My name is Steve Barratt and I live in Ramsgate Kent. I work in an industry that is not wanted by either the EU or the UK Government and everything that could have possibly been done to stop me from going to work has been done.

I expect alarm bells are ringing as to what I actually do for a living, could I be a drug runner, a people trafficker, an internet hacker, a hit man or something similar?

Well, you will be pleased to know that I am none of the above – I am in fact a commercial fisherman operating an inshore, under 10m boat out of Ramsgate Harbour.

I work in a mixed fishery and catch quite a variety of fish such as cod, bass, plaice, skate, dogfish, dover sole and many more. It is impossible to avoid these fish when in a situation whereby I have no quota for a particular species.

When I catch fish with no quota the EU ruling is that I must return it to the sea. In most cases these fish are dead or have little chance of survival. The EU are aware of this and despite receiving many protests and plea’s to change the quota system are not prepared to do so.

They are hell bent on making everyone abide by the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy). This is an inept quota system where fish can only be landed if quota is available. If quotas not available, they have to be dumped dead into the sea.

To make matters worse, the UK Government is hell bent on enforcing these rules and regulations. They have employed numerous people and organisations to police any fish landings that are made in the UK.

The EU has decreed skates and rays are ‘endangered’ and have given virtually no quota for this species. Fishermen are seeing an explosion in skates and rays, they are everywhere, yet because quotas don’t reflect this we have to dump skate dead into the sea.

We then have to keep catching and dumping skate as we try to catch other fish to make a living. This makes it impossible for a boat to be profitable and does nothing for conservation.

Our Government needs to be held to account over this gross miscarriage of justice and the rules and regulations need to change to provide the industry with a better way of operating. Unfortunately, this cannot be done until we successfully leave the EU.

Only then will we be able to take back control of our territorial waters, abolish the Common Fisheries Policy and implement a better and more sustainable method of management of the industry – the government can’t keep the status quo for the sake of the fishermen or the fish.

Under no circumstances can this industry be involved in any so-called transition period where we’re stuck in the CFP. Out must be out on 29th March next year before what is left of the British fishing industry is consigned to museum and memory.

Welcome Intervention from Mr Gove & Ms Davidson Needs Clarity

Fishermen’s organisation Fishing for Leave strongly welcomed Mr Gove and Ms Davidson’s words but say more clarity is needed and the government needs to stop playing semantics.

Michael Gove and Ruth Davidson’s interventions come days after it seemed that senior government figures would fail to rebuff the EUs demand that a condition of a Free Trade Agreement is continuation of; “existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources”.

Mr Gove and Mrs Davidson stated their commitment that;

“As we leave the EU, we want the UK to become an independent coastal state, negotiating access annually with our neighbours….. the Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019”.

Fishing for Leave says it is welcome that both have lent their support to this but say where this turns south and these statements can ring hollow is they are impossible to fulfil if fishing is trapped in a transition and clarity is needed on this.

They it is an admission that fishing will be in a transition in the words;

“during the implementation period we will ensure that British fishermen’s interests are properly safeguarded.”

Alan Hastings of FFL said “It’s stating the obvious that the UK will officially “leave” the CFP on March 2019 as our membership ceases under Article 50. However, the transition means re-obeying all EU law after we leave meaning Brexit In Name Only (BRINO)”.

“During a transition the EU can enforce any detrimental legislation to cull the UK fleet which makes the pledge to safeguard British fishermen and a bright future academic and hollow”.

“There’s been well publicised representations to the government and MPs that being trapped in a transition will see a large proportion of the UK fleet culled under forthcoming inept EU policy that is already agreed”.

“This would allow the EU to use international law (Article62.2 of UNCLOS) to claim the “surplus” resources the UK would no longer have the fleet capacity to catch”.

“So why does the government stop playing semantics and clearly state in unequivocal terms not that we ‘leave the CFP’ but that there will be no continuation of it in any way shape or form post 2019?”

“Until that assurance is forthcoming everything else is a PR exercise playing on words that folk are getting sick fed up with regards Brexit”.

WELCOME COMMENT ON RESOURCES MUST BE ACHIEVED

FFL commend sboth Mr Gove and Ms Davidson for reinforcing that “we agree we must deliver a fairer allocation for the British fleet in our own waters”.  This echoes the PMs speech of “fairer allocation of fishing opportunities for the UK fishing industry.”

Fishing for Leave highlighted that under international law and ‘zonal attachment’ a nation is entitled to a proportion of any shared stocks based on the abundance of that stock in its waters.

Alan continued; “We hope and look forward to Mr Gove and Defra publicising that a “fair share” is no less than the 750,000 tons of fish the EU catches in British waters every year that are rightfully ours in exchange for the 90,000 tons we catch in theirs”.

“Anything less than fulfilling the government’s commitment to work under international law and therefore this international premise of zonal attachment would see a token gesture towards fairer shares”.

It’s music to hear senior politicians acknowledge and advocate that “We believe it is vital that we regain control over our own fisheries management…. we both agree that our fishing industry stands to benefit from our departure from the common fisheries policy”

“It is vital that the opportunity of repatriating the 60% of the fish the EU catches in British waters, which could double the British fishing industry’s worth to £6-8bn every year, is achieved”.

“FFL looks forward to the government substantiating the welcome whispers from Defra that new UK policy will give fair opportunity to all fishermen under a more sustainable management system to see the dividend of repatriating our waters help to rejuvenate coastal communities”.

“This is needed to replace the environmentally disastrous CFP which has forced consolidation to ever fewer boats and ports but if it is vital to regain control and they recognise fishing an benefit why trap fishing in a transition for 21months where the EU can move the goal posts?”

STILL NO REBUTTAL OF TRADING FISHING FOR TRADE DEALS

There is still no rebuttal to the PMs speech and Philip Hammond’s suggestion on agreeing shares and access to UK waters as a giveaway for a wider deal.

The PM said;

As part of a new economic partnership we want to continue to work with the EU to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to agree reciprocal access to waters

This statement and Hammond’s comments openly state that fishing will be tied and sacrificed as negotiating capital for a new economic partnership.

All this flies in the face of Mr Gove and George Eustice’s earlier comments at an EFRA Select Committee that fishing access and resources wouldn’t be tied to wider trade negotiations.

It’s time for the government to come out fighting to unequivocally succeed on this “acid test” by clearly saying there will be continuation or any ties to the CFP after March 2019 and that we really will take back control.

The Council spells it out – but David Davis doesn’t

The latest draft negotiating guidelines from the European Council on Brexit couldn’t be clearer when it comes to fishing. Section 7 begins as follows:-

“As regards the core of the economic relationship , the European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a free trade agreement (FTA), to be finalised and concluded once the UK is no longer a Member State. Such an agreement cannot offer the same benefits as Membership and cannot amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof.

This agreement would address:

i) trade in goods, with the aim of covering all sectors, which should be subject to zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions with appropriate accompanying rules of origin. In this context, reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.”

Let us be quite clear:- this document is not discussing a transitional agreement but a long-term trade deal. In other words, unless we allow essentially a continuation of the Common Fisheries Policy in all but name,  there will be no deal on trade.

Will our government  show the necessary resolve to indicate in no uncertain terms that the jobs of our fishermen are not going to be used as bargaining chips?

Given David Davis’ performance at the most recent meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee, it is hard tt feel confident about this. Even when it came ot the transitional arrangements, he was very evasive. Questioned by both Kate Hoey MP and Richard Drax MP, he would not state clearly and unambiguously that our Exclusive Economic Zone will be managed by the UK authorities alone after March 29th 2018. He said “we are not trading away our fishing rights” but he also said “we haven’t begun to discuss fishing”. Well, Mr Davis, the EU has made its position clear. It wants a continuation of the CFP not only in the transitional period (if it happens) but beyond.  There isn’t much to discuss – only one word needs to be uttered: NO.   

Please see also Fishing for Leave’s comments on the draft negotiating guidelines.