Brexit: Naval intervention over fishing backed by Lord West
This week, the EU and UK are pushing to secure an agreement on their future trading relationship before the end of the transition period at the end of the calendar year. A deadline for talks was initially set for Sunday, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to an extension after a “constructive” phone call. Mr Johnson, for his part, has made concessions on regulatory divergence, but EU negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that differences still remain over fisheries, and the issue even threatens to push the parties into a no deal situation.
French President Emmanuel Macron has been particularly firm on the issue after decades of tension over access to fishing waters between the UK and France, and concerns that Brexit could decimate the French fishing industry.
While Mr Johnson wants British boats prioritised in UK waters, Mr Macron is determined to maintain access for French fishermen.
The UK Government has argued that fishing agreements should be separate to the trade deal with access negotiated annually, as Norway does, but the EU wants unfettered access for the next ten years.
What’s more, the French government has threatened to veto a trade deal unless concessions are made on the British side.
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Brexit talks have stalled over the issue of fishing
Fishing boats moored in Dorset
The dispute over fishing harks back to the Cod Wars of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, during which the Royal Navy had to send warships to protect its fishing boats.
After one incident in the early Eighties, when a naval officer found evidence of illegal activity on a French boat, things escalated at an alarming rate.
Documents unearthed by Express.co.uk at the National Archives revealed that Lieutenant Simon Hambrook, from Balderton, boarded a French trawler in the North Sea in July 1981.
He found evidence to suggest the trawler had been using illegal nets and HMS Alderney was ordered to escort the vessel to Grimsby.
Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister when the incident happened
However, three French fisherman on board ‒ trawlerman France Babary, his shipmate Pierre Boulet and skipper Jean Blanpain of Equihen near Boulogne ‒ were furious.
After the boat was towed, Mr Barbary assaulted the officer and threatened to hang him, a court heard.
Both Mr Barbary and Mr Boulet also assaulted Sub-Lieutenant Christopher Taylor.
An article in the Advertiser on July 17, 1981, read: “A French trawlerman threatened to hang a Newark naval officer from the yard-arm when his vessel was taken in tow by a Royal Navy fisheries protection vehicle.
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“And the Frenchman, France Barbary, assaulted Lieutenant Simon Hambrook, 28, who had led the boarding party from HMS Alderney, Grimsby Magistrates were told last week.”
The skipper, Mr Blanpain, reportedly tried to make a dash for it, but later gave up his ship after a collision with HMS Alderney.
The three of them appeared before Grimsby Magistrates’ Court and Mr Blanpain admitted to using undersized nets and was fined the maximum £1000.
He was also fined £1000 for three offences, all of which he denied: failing to comply with the order of a naval officer, obstructing the tow and obstructing HMS Alderney.
European fishing dependence on British waters
Mr Barbary and Mr Boulet were fined £500 for assaulting Sub-Lieutenant Taylor and Mr Barbary was fined an additional £100 for assaulting Lieutenant Hambrook.
Both men denied the assaults.
In Foreign Office records released in 2015, the French vessel was identified as the Jean Mermo.
This incident shows the level of animosity displayed on the seas over fishing at the time.
This friction remains today, with many UK fishermen feeling that, under the Common Fisheries Policy, they have been dealt a raw deal for years, with over 60 percent of the fish caught in British waters being caught by foreign boats.
They hope Brexit will mean taking back control of UK waters, which contain six times the fish stocks of the rest of the EU’s water combined.
As an “independent coastal state” like Norway, the UK has the right to control what is known as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a vast territory stretching up to 200 nautical miles or up to the median point between it and its neighbours (eg. halfway across the English Channel).
However, EU member states, the French in particular, are terrified of this destroying its fishing industries and are ruthlessly defending their own interests.
Mr Macron is said to be worried that fishing is a major electoral issue, and so is sticking to his guns ahead of his attempted re-election in 2022.