Brexit news: Outrage after illegal Spanish fishing in UK waters ‘treated softly’ | UK | News (Reports)


Brexit: EU ‘acting like mafia’ over fishing says columnist

The UK has previously been “soft” on illegal Spanish fishing due to concerns over Gibraltar. Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, has been a point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations since it was first ceded to the UK in the eighteenth century. When Spain has pushed for Spanish sovereignty over the Rock, the people there have voted overwhelmingly to remain British.

During the Brexit negotiations, Spain repeatedly insisted that Gibraltar must be on the table, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has consistently reaffirmed his commitment to the self-determination of the Gibraltarian people.

Meanwhile, fishing has proved to be a major sticking point in negotiations and an impasse could even cause the UK to leave with no deal at the end of the transition period.

Various EU countries are concerned that they will lose out if the UK takes back control of its fishing waters.

For example, Spain is the third most reliant on fishing in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone after the UK itself and Ireland.

READ MORE: EU unmasked as letters show Belgian trawlers fishing off Brighton pier

spain fishing

The UK decided to “tread softly” when it came to illegal Spanish fishing over Gibraltar concerns (Image: GETTY)


Fishing has proved to be the last sticking point of Brexit talks (Image: GETTY)

The Common Fisheries Policy means they currently have unrestricted access to UK waters, which has six times the fish stocks as the rest of the EU combined.

Issues like fishing and Gibraltar have plagued governments for decades, even centuries, and were at boiling point during Margaret Thatcher’s era in the Eighties.

Foreign Office documents unearthed at the National Archives by have revealed that in 1982, a year before the Common Fisheries Policy came into effect, Spanish boats were repeatedly fishing illegally within UK limits.

The boats were unlicensed fishing vessels in contravention of both UK legislation and licensing arrangements for the European Economic Community (EEC), the precursor to the EU.

europe fishing

European fishing dependence on UK waters (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

A letter from the Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department on May 6, 1982 read: “We had word recently on this subject and agreed that for the moment it might be best for us to tread softly on illegal fishing by Spanish vessels in view of the larger problems which currently beset our relations with Spain.

“However, I have just received another similar message and on reflection wonder whether we are not perhaps carrying caution to excess.

“The protests we make over these incidents appear to be treated with lamentable insouciance by the Spanish authorities.”

A hand-written note from another official on August 25, 1982 read: “They had previously expressed the view that protests to the Spanish about fishing would not help out relations with Spain on other things (at the time they had Gibraltar in mind).”

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falklands war

Ship departing for the Falklands war (Image: GETTY)

The UK did have other things to worry about in terms of their relationship with Spain.

For one thing, it was embroiled in the Falklands War, in which the Spaniards allied themselves with the UK’s enemy, Argentina.

The conflict in the Falklands, once a colonial possession of Spain, caused uproar in Madrid.

Some parliamentarians questioned Spain joining NATO, which it did in May 1982, urging for a more neutral stance with the strengthening of South American ties.

Brexit: Nigel Farage labels EU fishing proposals ‘insulting’

Throughout the crisis, Spain supported the Argentine claim and condemned the British use of force as a “historical error”.

Spain was the only European country to abstain on the UN Security Council resolution 502 that asked for an end to hostilities and the withdrawal of Argentine troops.

Spain also abstained from a vote in the Council of Europe that supported Britain’s claim over the islands, and Madrid supported a negotiated settlement that gave Argentina sovereignty.

Mrs Thatcher was also worried that the Falklands War left Gibraltar vulnerable to attack from the Spanish.

eu fishing

EU countries most reliant on UK fishing waters (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Cabinet papers from the National Archives show that she agonised over this.

One of her private secretaries wrote: “I understand that the Prime Minister has expressed concerns about the implications of the Falklands crisis for Gibraltar, particularly in the light of reports of the jubilant reaction in the Spanish press.”

Given the circumstances, illegal fishing by Spanish boats was low on the priority list.

However, in a post-Brexit world, it may be necessary to keep an eye on UK fishing waters to ensure there are no breaches.

Mr Johnson has even threatened to deploy Royal Navy ships to patrol the waters in the event of a no deal.

While this has been condemned by some even within his own party, with MP Tobias Ellwood branding it “irresponsible”, these historical breaches may suggest it is not such a ridiculous suggestion.


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