Sunday, 6 Dec 2020

Brexit fishing row: Boris warned bitter EU standoff should have been avoided TWO YEARS ago

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Negotiations on the future relationship from 2021 onwards had looked to be on the verge of collapse just two weeks ago when the Prime Minister threatened to pull the plug on trade deal talks with just weeks to go before the transition period deadline on December 31. But the UK and EU have resumed talks as both sides desperately try to thrash out the finer details on a number of areas that have proved to be major sticking points in negotiations so far. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier met UK counterpart Lord Frost in London earlier this week, with talks swiftly moving to Brussels on Thursday as hopes rise a trade deal can be agreed in time.

But both teams remain a significant distance apart on several red lines, including fisheries, which has opened up widening cracks in negotiations.

Britain wants fishing quotas to be renegotiated in an annual basis, but the EU has argued this would make it impossible for the industry to make investment decisions.

Mr Johnson has vowed to protect UK fishermen in any trade deal with the EU, often promising: “We will take back control of our waters.”

But Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Shetland and Orkney, has said Mr Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May – who signed her withdrawal agreement with the EU in November 2018 – are firmly to blame for the current standoff over fisheries.

He told Express.co.uk: “The fishing industry has been promised a lot from Brexit and the people who were the most enthusiastic and campaigning for Brexit, are now the ones who are responsible for delivering on the promises that they made.

“It’s now down to a question of simple political will as to whether or not they deliver on the promises that they made.

“This current impasse between the UK and EU was completely foreseeable and completely unnecessary.

“If first Theresa May and then Boris Johnson had included fishing in the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than leaving it to be dealt as part of the Political Declaration, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this difficult situation.

“That was what was promised in the first place.”

Mr Carmichael believes when Mrs May signed her withdrawal agreement with the EU, she and then Brexit Secretary David Davis made a “strategic error of judgement” when they underestimated the strength of feeling in the UK fishing industry.

He claimed at that time, “they would almost have tried to sell-out the fishing industry at a later date” but then tried desperately to rescue the situation.

The Liberal Democrat MP said: “Reading between the lines, I think David Davis and Theresa May between them made a strategic error of judgement there because they didn’t understand the strength of feeling there is in the fishing industry.

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“At that point, they would almost have tried to sell-out the fishing industry at a later date but once they realised the strength of feeling that there was, then they found themselves trying to claw it back at a later stage.

“It was up to them – they made the promises and having made those promises, they should have delivered on that.”

“They have made a rod for their own back there.”

Mr Carmichael also warned Mr Johnson any betrayal of the UK fishing industry in the EU trade deal will have “pretty severe” consequences for his Conservative Party.

He added: “The Conservatives didn’t have the political will to hold out for fisheries in the Withdrawal Agreement so at that point you had to wonder if they would have the political will to deal with it in the Political Declaration.

“Given the high importance of fishing to my community and given the importance the industry attaches to the promises that they were made, I hope they do have the political will to hold out.

“The political consequences for any party that betrays the fishing industry now will be pretty severe.”

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