A small step – the denunciation of the 1964 Fisheries Convention at last!

Within a week of taking up his new post as Secretary of State Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, has finally denounced the London 1964 Fisheries Convention. This is a small and welcome step towards Brexit, but one which should have been done at the same time as Article 50, as both require two years’ notice of termination. It means that unless we get a time extension to the Article 50 process, there will be a 3-month overlap.

The 1964 Convention was an agreement between the UK and some other European countries about fishing rights in each other’s waters. It was disadvantageous to UK fishermen and very beneficial to the French, possibly as a sop to General de Gaulle, who was not at all keen to see us join the European Community, with which we were currently in negotiations with at the time.

There are some grounds for saying it may make little difference as the Convention is vessel-specific and very few, if any, boats mentioned in the 1964 agreement are likely to be commercially active.

Of course, our membership of the EU has superseded it. Michel Barnier tweeted yesterday:-

UK denunciation of London Convention=no change: EU law/Common Fisheries Policy had superseded it. EU 27 interests=my priority for negs

This is a very telling. In one sense, Barnier is correct, as the detail of the Convention was transferred into EU regulation. On Brexit day, however, the regulation ceases to apply, and we revert to previous domestic legislation which, if it had not been denounced today, would have continued the right of access to our 6 to 12 nautical mile limit.

Note again, “EU 27 interests=my priority for negs.” Given that France gained most from the 1964 Convention, in any negotiations for a post-Brexit fishing settlement, you can expect France to demand access rights to fish in UK waters.

So while today’s move has cleared the way for UK control of our waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coast, there is still the question of control of our seas between 12 and 200 nautical miles (or the median point where the sea is less than 400 nautical miles wide). The Great Repeal Bill will repeal the European Communities 1972 Act, but at the same time will repatriate EU law into UK law – in other words, EU legislation will still be on our statute books but will take its authority from Westminster and not Brussels. This means that while Article 50 would take us out of the Common Fisheries Policy, the Great Repeal Bill, unless it excludes fisheries, would more or less take us straight back in again.

The separate Fisheries Bill will counter that, as long as it takes effect at exactly the same time as, or before, the Great Repeal Bill. If there is any overlap, this will result in huge problems of continuity and legal challenges.

As the time ticks away towards 30th March 2019, ministers need to remember the Kent Kirk case. This Danish skipper deliberately fished in UK waters to test the situation when there were uncertainties following the termination of a fisheries agreement without anything being put in its place.

Once we reach the end of the Article 50 period in March 2019, all EU treaties and regulations will cease to apply to the UK, and we revert to our own UK legislation. It is vital to sort out a fisheries policy before then and the timetable is short. Under Article 50, unless there is unanimous agreement among the 27 members to extend the two year period, we have 21 months left to achieve a withdrawal agreement. When you consider all that needs to be done in such a short space of time, it raises the question as to whether this is possible.

The EU is in the driving seat when it comes to determining the terms of withdrawal. The UK can say yes or no and even then, the Council and the European Parliament have a vote. While the EU is obliged by treaty to conclude a deal, it could make life so difficult that the UK either has to submit or say no.

However, circumstances have dealt us a strong hand as far as fisheries is concerned. If there is no fisheries agreement, no EU vessel will be able to fish in our waters. Given the French fishing Industry needs access to UK waters to survive, it will be putting a lot of pressure on the EU’s negotiators to fight hard on its behalf. It is vital that our side does not give in. Gove has thrown down the gauntlet and even today’s action has ruffled a few feathers. He will need to steel himself for a far worse reaction if he is to see this through to the bitter end and reclaim full control out to the 200 nautical mile/median point limit.

(See also this press release from Fishing for Leave)

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  1. Josephine WhiteReply

    Nice to hear a bit of postive news for a change. All the gloom and doom of late has been depressing ,, if not distressing!

  2. Gordon WebsterReply

    The moment I heard that Gove had got the job, I felt a lot more confident that the promise made to our Fishermen would be honoured.
    As far as the EU is concerned, they have no hold and no power over us, once The ECA is repealed. Article 50 has been invoked by the British Parliament, and the Brussels Commission has been notified. Two years of negotiations may be the preferred modus operandi, but it is not mandatory. Theresa May’s Government can call No Deal at any time.
    We should never forget what the EU States, especially Germany and France, have to lose from a No Deal. They have spent 40 years asset stripping Britain of industries, and they cannot afford to lose the markets they have created in Britain. Just look at the cars on our roads, electrical equipment, Utilities, and even our Traffic Lights are all Siemens. The Government hold all the Aces and the future of the EU States £90 billion surplus in their hands – German Industrialists know it.

  3. John Petley
    John PetleyReply

    Please also read today’s press release from Fishing for Leave about the misinformation promulgated by the EU in the wake of yesterday’s announcement:-

    Despite FFL detailing this convention there’s a huge level of deliberate false information, the EU and some commentators are being deliberately misleading.

    Fishing for Leave first highlighted and detailed this forgotten convention on the 14th of October http://ffl.org.uk/brexit-backtrack-with-historic-rights/

    Alan Hastings of FFL said “We are delighted a 6month campaign & tremendous support of members, industry, public, Brexit groups, media, MPs and Peers caused a small but symbolic victory for the industry”.

    However, FFL have derided and are infuriated by the false information being used to deliberate reframing and manipulate and misrepresent the issue –

    1)UK catches 100,000tonnes in EU waters but EU only catch 10,000tonness in UK 6-12

    Alan said “Certain commentators should be ashamed of this blatant manipulation of statistics.
    UK catches 100,000t in ALL EU waters not just the 6-12mile strip. EU catches 674,000t in ALL UK waters. EU catch 54% of its catches in UK waters = 60% of UK’s fish! x7 more than we get back!”

    2) The CFP overrides the Convention-

    Alan said “The EU is filibustering that scrapping this convention means nothing and the CFP rules all. This is deliberate distortion to try to say they are in command – they are not. The EU adopted and used the rights of the Convention as the basis of CFP historical rights. The CFP sits alongside not supersedes. CFP ceases to apply so will adopted rights to 6-12”. He continued “As Britain reverts to pre-EU legislation the Convention would have allowed continued access between 6-12. Scrapping the convention & the CFP ends any EU access to all British waters”.

    3) Convention has nothing to do with the EU/Brexit –
    The significance is the Convention predates Britain’s EU membership. Although the CFP will/should “cease to apply” on withdrawal as per Article 50, the convention would not. The convention would have left back door access hence the vital necessity to scrap it.

    4 An insignificant move and publicity stunt that changes nothing –
    Mr Hastings conceded that nothing will change until the 2year withdrawal notification period elapses. However FFL were delighted that it’s pushed government to a more strident approach. Saying “It’s only 12 miles-now we must have our full 200mille EEZ with no continuation of the CFP to appease the EU!”

    5) Weakens Conservation and Sustainable Fishing – Excluding EU boats Reduces fishing pressure. The UK can enact policy, management & access terms far better than the disastrous CFP. International co-operation can continue as neighbours not bed fellows. Britain acting like Norway, Iceland and Faroe doesn’t jeopardizes sustainability!

    Alan continued “FFL is disappointed at some who say their sole interest is sustainable fisheries but who are deriding Britain re-establishing her sovereign rights, which will REDUCE fishing effort and see the UK enact new bespoke policy rather than continue with the dysfunctional CFP”

    “FFL congratulates the Fisheries Minister for his public defense of convention withdrawal and his refuting of misrepresented statistics and the accusations of imperiling sustainability”.

    “FFL is glad to hear him assert, and push the whole government, that the UK will take back our entire 200 EEZ”.

    “The Prime Minister must now give official unequivocal backing after the dodgy manifesto wording that means only taking back out to 12 miles not the entire 200 EEZ as the minister has continually stated”.

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