This article was originally published on The Commentator
This week, the Brexit negotiators of the British Government and the European Commission came to an agreement on the Transition Period. The European Council will discuss whether to ratify the deal later this week.
Appallingly, in the rush to secure a deal, our negotiators have sold out our fisheries industry to continuing EU control until at least 2021.
Our fishing communities have long been neglected due to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Breaking free of this disastrous scheme was one of the main reasons 17.4 million Britons voted to Leave the EU.
The Government had previously assured fishermen we would Leave the CFP on Brexit Day, but now it appears we will have to wait until 2021 – 5 years after the EU Referendum.
Leaving the CFP will allow us to take back control of our fishing waters, extending to 200 miles from the UK, as is our right under international law.
Continued membership of the CFP means continuing to allow vessels from countries such as Germany, France and Belgium to fish in these waters. We will also still be bound by EU quotas on how much fish we can catch – for example 9 percent of the haddock quota is all the UK gets from the EU quota!
This system of quotas allows EU fishing vessels to catch around £4 billion worth of fish from British waters. It has caused huge job cuts in the British fishing industry and led to the ludicrous situation in which Britain is a net importer of fish.
This terrible situation is worsened by our lack of representation in EU institutions during the Transition Period. After Brexit Day – 29th March 2019 – we will not be in attendance at any meeting to decide quotas. We may only be “consulted” by the EU – which is clearly open to interpretation.
Fishing communities are extremely concerned the EU may take advantage of this period to decimate what is left of the British fishing fleet. There are serious fears of intense overfishing by EU trawlers. The EU could introduce new CFP rules to the detriment of British fisheries, and then use international law to claim the “surplus” fish in UK waters.
Taking back control of our fishing waters is undoubtedly a huge opportunity in a clean Brexit. The Scottish Fishing Federation predicts it would lead to a boom worth £2.7 billion, creating 30,000 jobs.
The Government, through our membership of the EU and the CFP, has long neglected our coastal communities. The economic damage to our fisheries has contributed to increased poverty in many coastal regions. Regenerating our fishing industry will be a significant chance to improve the livelihoods of working families.
The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said in the Commons he was “disappointed” with the Transition Period deal on fishing but urged Brexiteer MPs to focus on the “big prize” of taking back full control of our fishing waters in 2021.
So 13 Tory MPs and 1 DUP MP have written to the Prime Minister to say the Transition Deal with the EU is “completely unacceptable”. What is happening with the trade-off over our fishing industry is only the tip of the iceberg of discontent.
However, it is not at all clear the Government will stick to this policy of full control of fishing in 2021. In his recent speech, Philip Hammond suggested Britain could offer the EU “reciprocal access” to fishing waters, in return for a good deal on financial services. Selling out the livelihoods of fishermen in return for a boost to bankers in London is an awful idea – and one which the Government must totally reject.
In Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Theresa May said she would work with the fishing industry to address their concerns. She said she wanted to “ensure we can rebuild our fishing communities”. Unfortunately, these warm words will do little to satisfy fishermen whose jobs are at risk now due to the Government’s capitulation. If the Prime Minister really supports our fishing industry, she must go to the European Council meeting on Friday and fight to take fisheries out of the Transition Agreement.
When Britain joined the EU (then the European Economic Community – the EEC) 45 years ago, the Ted Heath Government infamously sold out our fishing communities as part of the negotiation.
It is completely unacceptable for the current Government to continue this long series of neglect for our fisheries by surrendering control of our waters. We must urgently Get Britain Out of the Common Fisheries Policy – preferably on Brexit Day next year.
Peter Lyon is a Research Executive at cross-party grassroots campaign Get Britain Out