Sunday, 25 November 2018

Brexit - a political viewpoint picking up on, "should build on, inter alia, existing reciprocal access and quota shares"

Chris Higgins, Senior lecturer in Politics at the University of Suffolk with an interest in Fishing has weighed in with these observations on the exchanges being tweeted between various sectors and interested parties on Twitter and other social media:

"Seeing lots of this sort of stuff with people unhappy about Brexit and fishing. So let's unpack the issue to get a more informed take."

Here's the bit causing all the kerfuffle. It's in the declaration regarding the withdrawal agreement and political declaration. Main controversy is this phrase: "should build on, inter alia, existing reciprocal access and quota shares"

First thing's firstst. Given presence of shared fish stocks straddling the UK's & EU's (& Norway's/Faroes') EEZs, UK must strike fisheries agreements with neighbouring coastal states. If you object to idea of fisheries agreements with other coastal states, Brexit wasn't a good idea. Making fisheries agreements is literally what independent coastal states do. The fact UK would enter into one does not mean that it'll continue to be in CFP (eg Norway has a fisheries agreement with the EU, but it's not in CFP & retains full control over fishing in its EEZ)

Secondly, phrase "should build on" doing lots of work here. I see two aspects to this. 

1. Existing arrangements offer a baseline/starting point to come to new agreement, rather than a cut & paste of existing rules. It's perhaps helpful words designed to get agreement through 

2. It's likely any new UK fisheries policy will have some sort of transition to new rules. This would be similar to recent Faroes fisheries reform which effectively bans foreign ownership of licences, but allows for a 6 year transition period So for absolute clarity - after the transition period the UK will leave the CFP & on fishing within its EEZ can do whatever it wants, including negotiating a new agreement with EU on fishing. But we need also need to be honest that fishing does not operate in isolation.

Whether you like it or not trade is crucial to fishing. It's impossible to separate them and many of the examples some use to say it is possible actually don't hold up (eg Norway's is out of CFP, but also faces tariffs & limited tariff-free quotas on many seafood products) 

This gets us onto three wider points. 

First, this is a high stakes international negotiation. UK has interests and EU has interests. Don't be surprised that the EU is pushing its interests. If you don't like it - tough. Brexit will involve many more of these tensions/trade-offs.

Second, there's a wider diplomatic point we need to consider here. If the UK says it wants a close relationship with the EU and nice shiny trade deals with the rest of the world - well the EU and the rest of the world are watching the UK's behaviour.

Third, don't forget some of this from the EU side is for domestic consumption. Like the UK fishing industry, industries in other EU member states are relatively small, and feel their interests are traded off by their respective governments (sound familiar?)

So to recap. 

On fishing, the UK can do whatever it wants after the transition period. But we have to be upfront and honest about the trade-offs involved in fisheries policy. Government and politicians have a responsibility here. At the moment we have empty commitments being given to the industry, promising to deliver the undeliverable. This is eroding trust which will ultimately lead to bad fisheries policy. Rather than telling the industry it can achieve the unachievable, there needs to be more dialogue. Government needs to be honest about what's at stake in the negotiations, and this means talking to all of the industry about what could work rather than making false promises."

What do you think?