The former CBI director told TalkRADIO that if the EU fails to agree with the UK on post-Brexit fishing rights, the Brussels bloc will face chaos in Spain and France as European fishermen will inevitably lose out in a no deal scenario. Lord Digby Jones warned: “I don’t think it’s coming down just to the deadline for us to do a deal with Europe, it’s coming down to a deadline for Europe to do a deal with us.
“This is a two-way street. When you think about it, if there’s no deal, at the moment in the Channel the UK can only catch 10 percent of the entire available haddock stock and the French can actually catch 66 percent. Six times as much haddock can be caught in the Channel by the French than it can be caught by us in our waters.
“At the end of the day, the EU can take 91 percent of all the cod in our waters. Now, for Barnier to sit there and say ‘you’ve got to move on the fish’ what he’s looking at is at the end of this year, all the French fishermen, all the Spanish fishermen, all the Dutch fishermen, will actually be told ‘get out of our waters’.
“There will be social mayhem in France, there will be mayhem in Spain and we’ve got to start saying Barnier, can’t you understand and can’t you see countries that have got nothing to do with the Channel – places like Latvia or Germany – can’t they say if they believe they’re in this together, they got to do something to move on this.
“Because what we can say is all we’re doing is we want our water back.”
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It comes as ministers have denied they are preparing to tear up commitments made in Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal with the EU if there is no agreement with Brussels on free trade.
The Financial Times reported the Government is planning to table legislation which would override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement which sealed the UK’s departure from the EU in January.
The move raised concerns the Government could walk away from the Northern Ireland protocol – intended to ensure that there is no return of a hard border with the Republic – if the talks on a free trade deal fail.
However, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Internal Market Bill, due to be published on Wednesday, was simply designed to tie up some “loose ends” where there was a need for “legal certainty”.
He insisted that the Government remained committed to the principles of the deal, which will see customs checks on some goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.
“What we are talking about here is what type of administrative customs processes you might have for goods that might be at risk of entering the EU single market – going from GB to Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“These are important but minor technical details. The principle behind the protocol of checks on some of those goods entering through Northern Ireland ports is in the Northern Ireland protocol and we remain committed to it.”
The suggestion the UK could possibly undermine an international treaty and use Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip was greeted with anger and dismay among key figures in Ireland and mainland Europe.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership. Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island & integrity of the single market.”
A European Commission spokesperson said: “The full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular the protocol on Ireland, and Northern Ireland, are essential.
“These are legal obligations under international law. This is a matter of trust.
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“This is a prerequisite, a precondition for the negotiations on the future partnership, I think that’s clear.”
He said the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier said he would be seeking clarification about the UK’s plans.
Mr Barnier told French radio that honouring Withdrawal Agreement was “a pre-condition for confidence between us because everything that has been signed in the past must be respected”.
Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said that abandoning the agreement would be “a very unwise way to proceed”.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said: “It beggars belief that the Government is – yet again – playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland and sacrificing our international standing at the altar of the Prime Minister’s incompetence.”
The row erupted as Mr Johnson set a five-week deadline for talks with the EU on a post-Brexit free trade deal to either reach agreement or for both sides to accept there will be no deal when the current transition period ends at the close of the year.