Brexit: UK must 'not surrender' to EU over fisheries

1 September 2020, 21:45

Boris Johnson holding a cod during an election campaign visit to Grimsby Fish Market last December
Boris Johnson holding a cod during an election campaign visit to Grimsby Fish Market last December. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Britain's Brexit negotiators are being urged to "not surrender" to the European Union over access to fisheries as talks reach crunch point, ministers have been told.

Conservative MP Sheryll Murray, of South East Cornwall, praised the UK for "holding firm" against the "unacceptable demands" of the EU over accessing Britain's waters.

Fishers are said to be optimistic about the transition period ending on 31 December, MPs heard, and they hope UK negotiators will reject Brussels' demands.

However, the Scottish National Party (SNP) spearheaded efforts to block the progress of the Fisheries Bill until it is "clear what kind of deal" will be made between the two parties.

The legislation will enable Britain to become an independent coastal state once the transition period ends and it will block foreign fishing boats from entering UK waters unless licensed to do so.

Ms Murray told the second reading debate in the House of Commons: "All United Kingdom fishermen are looking forward to the end of the transition period with much optimism.

"My message is clear: do not surrender to the unacceptable demands of the European Union and it may be worth reminding them that they already have the mechanisms in place to adapt their collective fleet to their much-reduced resource."

Earlier, Environment Secretary George Eustice argued the legislation gives the UK an opportunity to correct "shortcomings" in the EU-led approach to fishing for the "first time in almost half a century".

He told MPs: "Overall the UK fishing industry currently has access to just around half of the fishing opportunities that are in our own waters and that cannot be right."

The minister urged MPs to support the proposals of the second reading as they will allow Britain to "chart a new course as an independent coastal state".

Mr Eustice said the powers will be necessary "whether or not there's a further negotiated outcome on a future partnership with the European Union", as he sought to dismiss the importance of ongoing Brexit talks.

Explaining the measures to control access by individual foreign vessels to the UK's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Mr Eustice said: "This includes the power to stipulate, through a vessel licence, firstly where in our EEZ a vessel may fish, when it may fish there, what fish it may catch whilst there and what type of fishing gear it may or may not use.

"The ability to control and manage access to our waters will be crucial to ensuring that a fairer sharing arrangement prevails in future."

Neil Parish, Tory chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, also said: "EU vessels benefit by a ratio of six to one under the Commons Fisheries Policy, so it is time we put this right."

Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard said Labour believes the Bill does not deliver the "coastal renaissance" that it should have.

He said: "Fishing is a policy area where, up to now, soundbites have often triumphed over substance and where dogma has often won out over detail.

"That must end now because fishers in our coastal communities cannot feed their families on soundbites and vague government promises."

Mr Pollard continued: "This Bill is a framework Bill so is necessarily light on detail but it does offer a centralisation of powers with (Mr Eustice) and doesn't deliver the coastal renaissance that I think this Bill should have done.

"10 years of austerity has hit our coastal communities hard and now Covid-19 means we are standing on the precipice of a new jobs crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1980s."

SNP environment spokeswoman Deidre Brock, moving her party's amendment to decline the Bill a second reading, added: "We still have no idea what the agreement with the EU will look like and we still have no idea what the seascape will be that fishing businesses have to operate in.

"There is still no clarity. That deal is not going to be good for fishing communities. They remember that a previous Tory government sold them out in negotiations over Europe and now they fear the new generation of Tories will do exactly the same."