WHEN I first read the Prime Minister’s new Brexit deal back in 2019 one thing, perhaps more than any other, jumped out at me. It was the provision relating to the EU’s right to fish in our territorial waters.
The political declaration clearly stated the UK and EU would work towards establishing “quota shares”. This jumped off the page because the Prime Minister had repeatedly said we would have full control of our waters. He never said anything about agreeing new fixed quotas.
Indeed, to a significant extent, he won the referendum of 2016 on the back of the promise made to take back control of fishing. It was emblematic of taking back control of powers we had lost, the British people understood fishing as but one of many examples. That’s why it became a totemic issue – and it still is.
Despite the wording of the agreements he made the PM went on insisting the UK would have unfettered control – even after the final terms of his new deal had been revealed – all in denial of its plain English interpretation.
Throughout the general election campaign, after he won his thumping majority and throughout 2020, he went on saying the same thing: we would have total control of our water.
Eventually, when the future trading arrangements were settled in the form of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (T&CA) – released last year on Christmas Eve(!), he claimed this delivered on his promise to take back control.
He is either deluded or is seeking to delude because he could not be more wrong.
The UK has in fact agreed to provide fixed fishing quotas to the EU all the way down to 6 miles off our coast, only on a marginally declining scale to 2026. And even in 2026 we do NOT regain control of our waters.
After 2026 we cannot freely alter the quotas agreed with the EU.
Alteration is only permitted for scientific and environmental reasons (article FISH 6 of the T&CA page 263) – or by agreement with EU. It is a complete fallacy to suggest we will have total control of our waters.
Any unilateral attempt to vary these quotas would entitle the EU to levy sanctions – and/or terminate the free trade, haulage and aviation provisions of the deal (article Fish 17 of the T&CA page 273). In other words, virtually the whole trade agreement would be cancelled. Such sanctions are severe.
To add insult to injury, when negotiating the T&CA, no provision was made to police EU boats in our waters. In practice they can pretty much do as they like. The total allowable catches set out in the T&CA are rather theoretical.
Moreover, no provision was made to protect the right of our own fishermen to sell their catch to the EU. So we have a situation where EU boats can take what they like from our waters without any scrutiny and our own fishermen cannot easily sell to the EU their stock, caught in exactly the same waters.
When the Prime Minister met representatives of the Scottish fishing industry in Fraserburgh recently they warned him of their ‘perilous situation’ but I wouldn’t expect it to get any better after 2026.
Even if you do not care about the fishing industry, it is vital you understand the truth about the deal. Why? Because it reveals the deception at the heart of the Prime Minister’s Brexit dealings. If he is prepared to mispresent the central promise on which he was elected, what else is he prepared to misrepresent?
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Fish filleted on a cutting board by Nomad_Soul from Adobe Stock