The British and European negotiating teams are holding talks in Brussels this week. While the discussions have made little progress so far, the two sides appear more willing to compromise this time. According to Brussels sources, the UK has offered a three-year transition period for European fishing fleets to allow them to prepare for the post-Brexit changes as part of an 11th-hour deal sweetener.
The catches of EU fishermen would be “phased down” between 2021 and 2024 to offer time for European coastal communities to adapt to the changes.
The idea of a phase-down period had been floated previously but details had not been provided until recent days.
However, the news immediately angered the British fishing industry, with the head of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations warning that anything which smacked of “Common Fisheries Policy-lite” would be “unacceptable”.
In a letter to the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, the head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), Elspeth Macdonald, added it was “imperative at this crucial stage that the UK remains steadfast”, noting: “Anything given away now will never be regained.”
Boris Johnson urged NOT to betray UK fishing by Thatcher minister: ‘It’s not about money!’
In a report for the Brexit think tank ‘Red Cell’, titled ‘Putting The Fisheries Negotiations Into Context’, former Conservative MP Patrick Nicholls claimed it would actually be wise to give the EU a generous deal on fisheries in exchange for something else, as fishing is a minuscule part of our economy.
Mr Nicholls was the Conservative MP for Teignbridge between 1983 and 2001.
Within a year of entering the House of Commons, Mr Nicholls was made a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Office Minister David Mellor, and subsequently to the Minister of Agriculture John Selwyn Gummer.
He then served as a junior employment minister between 1987 and 1990 and as a junior environment minister in 1990 under Margaret Thatcher.
Mr Nicholls argued that if it was “just a matter of money”, and if the UK’s motive for leaving the EU was based simply on perceived economic advantage, it would not be a bad approach.
He wrote: “At first glance, that is a ‘no-brainer.’
“Britain’s fishing industry is miniscule. It represents just 0.1 percent of GDP. And no wonder. Since Edward Heath signed away our fishing grounds to the EU to compensate them for the fact they had all but fished out their own waters, our share of the allowable catch in UK waters has decreased to just 25 percent.
“The remaining 75 percent is taken by the EU.
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UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier
Fishing is a minuscule part of the British economy
“By contrast, our finance industry is vast. It amounts for more than 10 percent of GDP, creating in the process literally millions of well-paid jobs. The tax revenue it generates is vast.”
However, Mr Nicholls claimed that the Brexit project is not and never was “about the money” and that is exactly why Mr Johnson should not cave in to Brussels’ demands on fishing.
He explained: “The Brexit project is about restoring morality to politics.
“It’s about restoring to the British people the right to govern themselves by electing and dismissing the politicians who govern their lives. How did they ever lose that right?
“How was it that in 1975, when granted a referendum on membership of the European Union, or rather the Common Market as it was then, they seemingly surrendered that right?
“And the answer is that the British people were systematically lied to about the nature of the Union they were joining and they were lied to specifically about what had been surrendered in the matter of fishing policy.”
Mr Nicholls added: “That is why Boris Johnson must get this right and to his great credit he has never sought to suggest that stuffing what is left of the British fishing industry is just a ‘cruel necessity,’ an unfortunate but unavoidable exercise in realpolitik.
“We need to be clear here. It is not that Boris Johnson or any of today’s Conservative leaders are themselves guilty of what their forebears did.
“The Prime Minister was only 8 years old when we entered the Common Market in 1972.
“No guilt can attach to him or any of today’s Conservative leaders for what their forebears did, unless by betraying the fishing industry a second time they choose to endorse and embrace that guilt.”
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan claimed Mr Johnson will undoubtedly deliver on his promise and give back to British fishermen full control of their waters, reversing former Prime Minister Edward Heath’s move.
The former Tory Prime Minister is known for being the man who took Britain into the now-European Union in the early Seventies.
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Former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan
Former Prime Minister Edward Heath
According to Mr Hannan, Mr Heath was so “desperate” to join that he “even effectively handed away our fishing grounds as a kind of late entry fee”.
This, however, is going to change once the transition period ends in December 2020.
The former Conservative MEP explained: “I don’t think there is any chance that we will now not insist on the sovereignty of our territorial waters.
“That is not to say that we are going to have exclusive use of them.
“We don’t have the capacity for that and we never had that.
“Before we joined the European Economic Community (EEC), we always had bilateral and multilateral agreements with our neighbours like every other country in the world does.
“If fish spawn in the waters of one country, reach maturity in another, of course those two countries will get together and agree a quota system that they can both share and benefit from.
“We will do that just like Norway or Iceland.”
Mr Hannan noted: “But it will be on the basis that we are a sovereign country, making agreements with our neighbours rather than on the basis that North Sea fish stocks are a common resource to which all members have equal access.
“Mr Johnson has been very clear about that.
“We will take back sovereignty out to 200 miles all the medium line, as allowed under maritime law.
“We will look for friendly and mutually profitable deals with our neighbours in the Netherlands, France and so on that will serve our interests as well as theirs.
“But we will do so as a sovereign country.”