PM 'must deliver on UK's waters or it's over for us', fishermen tell LBC

9 December 2020, 16:10 | Updated: 10 December 2020, 16:13

By Victoria Smith

Boris Johnson must deliver on fisheries promises in Brexit talks with Ursula von der Leyen otherwise "it's over" for most of England's industry, fishermen have told LBC.

The prime minister is travelling to Brussels on Wednesday to negotiate the three remaining sticking points for a trade deal - governance, the level playing field and fisheries - with the European Commission president.

It comes with just weeks left until the Brexit transition period expires at the end of the month, with the chances of an agreement being struck in time narrowing by the hour.

Divergences between the UK and EU on fishing rights have proven to be a major stumbling block since Britain voted to leave more than four years ago.

Earlier, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the UK could compromise on a transition arrangement on fishing rights but that the country could not back down from being an independent coastal state.

Martyn Boyers, chief executive of Grimsby fish market, echoed Mr Gove, telling LBC "it's perfectly reasonable" to expect the European Union to require permission to fish in British waters.

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"Quite clearly we are in our own right a coastal state. Therefore, we've got our own waters, therefore the Europeans need to have permission from us to fish in those waters," he said.

"I don't think it's feasible for us to expect that we're going to catch all the fish that are in there so it's perfectly reasonable to do some sort of deal with the Europeans."

However, Mr Boyers said the stalemate in talks has proven how complicated the matter is and how much the government underestimated the dispute.

Asked what he thought of those who argue that, due to the industry's relatively small size in terms of the UK's GDP, fighting over fisheries is not worth the effort, Mr Boyers told LBC the sector is not expendable for those working in it.

He said Leave politicians put fishing front-and-centre of their 2016 campaign and made promises "about getting our waters back and getting our fishing back".

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"At the end of the day, that's what the mantra was. That was the offer on the table and that's what people went (voted) for," he added.

"Although economically it's a very small part of the economy, emotionally it's very high so those promises have been made and they simply have to carry it out."

Fisherman Darren Kenyon, of Fastline Shellfish in Grimsby and one of the port's last remaining active fishermen, told LBC he and his colleagues simply want to "keep the fishing industry here in Grimsby".

However, he accepted that without a deal fishing quotas will still need sorting out as the UK could not simply block European fishermen from farming in waters they have licences for.

But he warned that the prime minister failing to deliver any changes in talks with the EU could prove to be fatal for the sector.

"If nothing changes I think it'll be over for the middle of England," he said.

"There might be a bit on the south coast still working because they've got a lot of vessels down there. And then the Scots have a lovely fishing industry... but it's no good saying it's going to happen in three or four years' time (as part of a fisheries-specific transition period) because there are less and less people working (in the sector) now."

Asked what his message would be for Mr Johnson as he heads to Brussels, Mr Kenyon said: "If he does his best and he comes out with a bit of a smile on his face then I think we'll be happy.

"But we need to be allowed to catch some fish."

Additional reporting from Nick Hardinges.