Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Brexit - The bigger battle begins!

Cabinet clashes over when Britain should ‘take back control’ of fishing from EU 

A Cabinet split has opened over whether Britain should try to break with European Union rules on fishing during the post-Brexit transitional period. 

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, is leading calls for the UK to pull out of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in March 2019 to enable it to set its own rules over fishing quotas. “For some, setting our own fishing quotas is a totemic issue and insist that has to be an early priority for the Prime Minister”

Other ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond, are arguing that Britain should not use up capital in forthcoming negotiations with Brussels to try to carve out a special deal for the fishing industry. Theresa May is under pressure from both sides of the argument as she prepares for talks over the details of the transitional period which follows Brexit. 

Early sticking-point:

The subject of fishing quotas threatens to be an early sticking-point in Brexit negotiations amid early signals that the EU will refuse to compromise on the issue. Mr Gove has called for the UK to “take back control” of its waters early on the grounds that otherwise it would be bound by CFP quotas without having any influence on them. He is being backed by some pro-Remain ministers but is being opposed by the Chancellor. 

Mrs May has hinted that she favours an early departure from the fisheries policy, but Cabinet sources told i that she had not yet settled on her approach to the issue despite being discussed several times by ministers. “There is quite a difference of opinion. 

For some, setting our own fishing quotas is a totemic issue and insist that has to be an early priority for the Prime Minister,” one minister said. “Others say that fishing makes up just one percent of our [gross domestic product] and shouldn’t get special treatment. They say that if we make a special case for fishing, what’s to stop other sectors asking for special treatment?” 

Strength of feeling 

Senior Tories have warned her of the strength of feeling on the subject across Scotland, where the decision to sign up to the CFP upon joining the Common Market in 1973 cost thousands of jobs. Mr Gove, the son of an Aberdeen fish merchant,  said during the referendum campaign that his father’s firm “went to the wall” because of EU fisheries policies. 

The fishing minister, George Eustice, a strong pro-Brexiteer, has said the current system of quotas is unfair, allowing other EU countries to catch a disproportionate amount of fish in UK waters. He has raised the prospect of Britain striking new “reciprocal” arrangements with other EU countries upon departure from the bloc. 

Brexit flash-point 

Fishing policy became a flashpoint in the Brexit campaign, culminating in former Ukip leader Nigel Farage leading a flotilla of fishing boats up the Thames to urge Parliament take back control of British waters. It was met by a rival fleet led by rock star Bob Geldof. An SNP spokesman said: “The Tory in-fighting over Brexit seems endless. Fishing communities and businesses will feel utterly confused and let down by this incompetence. “Livelihoods in these communities are too important to become political games and rows between different factions of The Tory party.”

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/cabinet-clashes-britain-take-back-control-fishing-eu/

Today the NNFO published its response to the EU Commission's Brexit position published this week:

First, read the EU's Brexit position here:


"As an opening position, in advance of the negotiations that will take place over the next 10 months, there are few surprises. Before Christmas, the Commission signalled that it would not be fighting to retain formal jurisdiction over UK waters. That is a realistic recognition of the UK’s new legal status, under the UN Law of the Sea, after the UK concludes the process of leaving the EU. However, in this new position statement, the Commission signals that it will insist on the status quo for quota shares and access arrangements, at least during any transition or implementation period; and will also press for the UK to be tied umbilically to the CFP for the foreseeable future. For the most part, the UK would become a rule-taker, rather than a participant in the rule-making process and most certainly the UK’s status would certainly not reflect the proportion of fisheries resources in its waters. The Commission intends to use trade as the lever to secure these objectives.
The principles of equal access and relative stability have worked very well for the EU fleets - and to the systematic disadvantage of the UK for over forty years - by comparison with the deal that would have been available to us as an independent coastal state. It is no surprise that the EU will try to cling on to this state of affairs for as long as possible. This new document provides an indication of how they will try to achieve this.
Direct Conflict
The Commission’s position brings the EU into direct conflict with the aspirations of the UK fishing industry, which see the UK’s new legal status after March 2019, as a stepping stone to the normal advantages that accompany the status of an independent coastal state: quota shares that broadly reflect the resources in its EEZ; access arrangements for non-UK vessels only when there is a balancing benefit for the UK; and the ability to determine the shape of the management system to which the UK fleet is subject.
The Commission’s plan is to block any shift in this direction by insisting that access to the EU market, on anything other than WTO rules, would not be available, unless the UK sacrifices its fishing industry, which would continue to be subject to the whole body of EU rules past, present and future.
Clearly, the Commission’s plan for the future relationship between the EU and UK on fisheries is to try to keep the UK tied into an asymmetric, essentially exploitative relationship, with the EU as the dominant party, dictating the all the terms. This approach would not be acceptable in West Africa. Why would it be acceptable here? The UK would have to be bent self-harm to accept such a deal. After Brexit, the EU will control only around 20% of the sea area in the North Sea and in Western Waters about 50%. How could it be fair, realistic, or rational to expect the UK to accept such terms?
So, there are no surprises in the Commission’s stance. It is an opening negotiating position and it is to be expected that opening statement in negotiations present unachievable, maximalist, positions. We have every reason to expect that our ministers will stoutly resist. It would not just be the fishing industry that would punish the government electorally for leading it to expect a better future, only to have the promise snatched away and replaced with bitter frustration. Anything that looks like tying the UK into the present arrangements in the form of a CFP-lite, would be denounced by the fishing industry and its allies as an unacceptable betrayal - because it would be an unacceptable betrayal.
There is an expectation across the fishing industry that we will see a significant step forward on day one as we leave the EU, with a clear step-wise plan to take us to enjoy the full fruits of our status as an independent coastal state.
Against this background, the NFFO Executive Committee, which met recently in York, has reaffirmed its objectives as the UK leaves the EU.
NFFO Chief Executive, Barrie Deas, said:
“As we enter this next crucial phase in the withdrawal negotiations, there is much speculation on what the implementation/transition phase will mean and, as is usual with these kind of talks, postures are being struck in advance.
Our Executive Committee thought it important to restate our Brexit objectives and to make clear that it is against these that any deal will be judged by the UK fishing industry.
Our objectives are:
1 That the UK should, from the point of departure from the EU, have the status of an independent coastal state, with jurisdiction over the fisheries within its Exclusive Economic Zone; along with an independent seat at the table when decisions on fisheries on shared stocks are made.
2 That the UK’s quotas of shared stocks should broadly reflect the resources that are located within UK water
3 That a 12mile exclusive limit should apply to safeguard to provide adequate protection for our coastal fisheries 
4 That access for non-UK vessels to fish within the UK EEZ should be subject to negotiation and should bring balancing benefits to the UK 
5 That there should be scope and flexibility for the UK to shape and tailor its domestic fisheries management arrangements to fit with its own fleets 
6 That the UK should seek as unimpeded access to EU markets as possible
“These are our objectives and it is against these that progress will be measured and judged as we enter this next phase in the negotiations. We think that it is positive that the Commission’s negotiating position recognises that bespoke arrangements will be needed to reflect the UK’s new legal status after March 2019; and that the EU will no longer have jurisdiction over fisheries in UK waters. This is a welcome sign that there is an awareness that the world is changing and the UK will be an independent coastal state under international law from the point of departure.”
“What would not be acceptable would be, despite that altered legal status, for the UK to succumb to pressure from the EU to tie us into medium or long-term arrangements in which nothing material changes.”

Full story courtesy of the NFFO.