A new year brings hope. Two of the biggest issues facing our country will be successfully dealt with in 2021; the Covid-19 health pandemic will finally be put to bed and the UK-EU deal will preserve free trade with the EU as we embark on our exciting new venture as a united, independent sovereign nation.
The deal, which has come before Parliament as the EU Future Relationship Bill, delivers a zero-tariff, zero-quota, free trade deal with the EU – the largest free trade deal in the world. It is good for our local businesses, farmers and residents and good for the UK. It safeguards thousands of jobs as well as the Good Friday Agreement and brings with it opportunities for our Global Britain ambitions, allowing us to strike free trade deals around the world – which we have already started to secure.
The deal has obtained what the Prime Minister promised in the Conservative Manifesto last year; it takes back control over our laws, borders, money, trade policy and fisheries. But it is the last point that I, along with Hastings and Rye fishermen, am bitterly disappointed with. Despite the fact that the deal respects our rights as an independent coastal state, a compromise was made regarding fisheries to get the deal over the line.
It is good that the mechanism of ‘relative stability’ that previously governed percentage quota shares for EU countries, which was considered unfair, will end. The deal allows EU boats to fish in UK waters for 5.5 years, whilst UK boats will get a larger share of fish from our own waters, from half to two thirds. Tariff and quota-free access to the EU market will be maintained, where much of the fish we catch is sold. The UK has the right to completely exclude EU boats after 2026, but the EU can respond with taxes on UK fish exports and can insist on compensation. After 2026, there will be annual negotiations to decide on access and quotas.
Arguably, the deal on fisheries benefits the whole of the UK, particularly our fishing communities in Scotland, but as far as Hastings and Rye fishermen are concerned it may not benefit them in the same way in the short-term. Our local fishermen’s red line was that foreign vessels should not be permitted to fish in UK waters between 0-12 nautical miles off UK shores (in practice 6-12 miles). I am informed that the EU was insistent on maintaining access for all its vessels in the whole of the UK’s 6-12 nautical mile zone (even though this is not reciprocated), where Dutch, French and Danish fishing boats are particularly dependent on fish caught here at the expense of our own fishing fleets.
The Prime Minister fought against this, but ultimately a compromise was agreed that such access would be restricted to the Channel and the Bristol Channel, limited to non-UK vessels with a past track record. This is not what Hastings and Rye fishermen had asked for – not what I have fought for them on their behalf, ever since I became their MP. Only recently I managed to secure a guarantee in the new Fisheries Bill that access to our 0-12 nautical miles would be for UK vessels only, this was a big win and demonstrated the resolve that I and the Government had to protect these fishing waters. However, the new deal with the EU has meant a compromise in this area was reached for the English Channel and Bristol Channel. This is why I am deeply disappointed.
I have joined with other coastal MPs to ensure a stronger voice for our fishermen, especially our inshore fleets. We are determined to work with Defra and fisheries to ensure support is given by this Government to maximise opportunities on quotas and investment and push for further restrictions against foreign vessels in our waters. It might not be the best deal for our fisheries in the immediate term, but we can make it work.
I supported the Prime Minister and voted for this deal because it delivers in so many areas and provides our United Kingdom with great opportunities into the future, but I will never forget our local fishermen and will continue to fight for them every step of the way.