Tuesday, 27 Jul 2021

Missing in action! UK fishermen destroy Tory MPs over silence on ‘sell-out’ EU deal

Brexit: Nicki Holmyard on 'devastating' impact on fisheries

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The UK and European Union agreed an 11th-hour Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on Christmas Eve, with fishing rights often proving to be a heated subject for discussion during often bitter Brexit talks between the two sides. Boris Johnson had vowed to do his absolute best to protect UK fishermen in any deal, but has since been accused by representative bodies of a “betrayal” and for “tale of woe, very far away from the sea of opportunity that some spoke about”. The Prime Minister was accused of almost completely folding on the issue in talks with the EU, scrapping many of the red lines that had been in place since the beginning of talks in order to avoid a no-deal.

Quota shares were only slightly adjusted to favour British boats, and no coastal exclusion zone was established, despite promises to the industry.

The National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO) has lashed out, and raged that even the “most vociferous supporters” among Tory MPs had gone “very quiet” since the deal was signed.

NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas told a briefing on Wednesday: “Those Conservative MPs that were our most vociferous supporters were very quiet, about the implications of the TCA.

“That’s the world that we’re having to adjust to.

“The European Research Group, for example quite often referred to fishing as a poster child for Brexit but I don’t think any of them came out and said this is a bad deal for fishing.

“Their eye was on the main prize, which of course was the trade agreement.”

The fishing boss maintained the industry believes the agreement signed with the EU had been a “sell-out” as the situation remains largely unchanged until terms are re-negotiated in 2026.

Mr Deas said early optimism about the Brexit deal by UK fishermen had been completely destroyed following firm assurances from the likes of Mr Johnson, Brexit minister Lord Frost and senior members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet.

The NFFO chief executive said: “It’s really quite hard to convey how sudden the industry’s fall from grace was.

“In December last year we were the kind of the poster child for Brexit, and we were very much looking forward to a future as an independent coastal state, with very, very solid assurances given by the Prime Minister, Lord Frost, and senior members of the of the cabinet over control over who fishes in UK waters and escape from the Common Fisheries Policy – and quota shares that reflected our new status as an independent coastal state.

“And then, from Christmas Eve, really, the government in an eerie echo of Ted Heath’s betrayal – as it’s seen in the industry – in 1973 where fishing was sacrificed, despite all the assurances and promises.

“That deal was made in order to secure the broader advantages that would be attached to a trade deal with the EU.”

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Mr Deas warned fishing politics would be “toxic” for years to come, while also warning the agreement with the EU might be seen around the world as a sign the UK will not defend fishermen – something they could potentially take advantage of.

He added: “The turbulence that has been created has extended to our relations with Norway.

“Seeing that the UK gave into the EU, Norway is playing quite a dangerous game of hardball on Mackerel – at some cost, it has to be said, to their reputation.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “The UK and the EU have agreed an historic Fisheries Framework Agreement that reflects the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state, and works to protect and promote the rights of fishermen across the UK.

“The Agreement provides for a significant uplift in quota for UK fishermen, equal to 25 percent of the value of the average annual EU catch from UK waters and will be phased in over five years; with the majority of this value being transferred in the first year.

“Now that we have left the Common Fisheries Policy, all vessels, regardless of nationality, may only fish in UK waters if they have a valid licence and abide by UK rules.”

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