It is well known that there are some fundamental differences between the E.U. and the U.K. in the negotiations for our future relationship. Reportedly, talks are ‘deadlocked’ over fishing, the level playing field guarantees, and governance.
I want to focus on fisheries - and sovereignty.
When the U.K. voted to leave the E.U. in 2016, the country voted to regain our sovereignty, including taking back control over our territorial fishing waters as an independent sovereign nation.
The UK’s proposed Fisheries Framework Agreement reflects the fact that by the end of this year, we will be an independent coastal state and will no longer be bound by the EU Common Fisheries Policy and the current arrangements on quota sharing will end.
The UK’s proposal is based on precedents, including the EUs separate fisheries agreements with other coastal states (which are not dependent on other agreements, such a free trade). The UK proposes annual negotiations on fishing opportunities and access to relevant waters for fishing. It proposes cooperation to manage and protect fish stocks. It is a fair and reasonable proposal.
But the EU wants to ‘cherry pick’ and retain the current arrangements of the Common Fisheries Policy.
What the EU does not seem to grasp is that this is about looking forward to the future and not to the past.
It is not about the economic value that fishing has to our GDP, which makes up only 0.1%.
It is about our coastal communities which have been decimated by a policy which halved our fleets and made the UK a net importer of fish.
In beautiful Hastings and Rye our fishing communities have traditionally been the heart and souls of our towns. We are proud of our fishing heritage as well as the local jobs fishing supports and the industry’s contribution to local tourism. Hastings is the UK’s largest beach-launched fleet which has been around for a thousand years. Regaining control over our waters and our
fishing will strengthen the heart and soul of our coastal communities like Hastings and help them to regenerate and thrive.
It is about UK sovereignty and greater autonomy. Sovereignty still matters even in this ‘globalised’ world and the pooling of nation’s sovereignty has not benefitted a number of European nations.
It is about being an independent nation state which gets to dictate who has access to our waters and by the end of this year, we will have that right to determine who fishes in our territorial waters.
The UK is looking for equality of sovereignty to be respected in these agreements. The EU looks at a ‘level playing field’ - where EU regulations and some institutions are autonomous. A weighted ‘level playing field’.
There is a wide gap here.
The EU’s mandate that it will not enter a free trade deal until we reach agreement on fisheries is not reasonable. No other third country has had to agree to such a condition.
The EU has made various threats to bring the UK to heel. The latest threat is to refuse to negotiate an agreement to take back illegal migrants if we do not back down in the trade talks on fishing, level playing field and governance. These three areas which the EU insists we back down on are fundamental to our independence and sovereignty, which is what our nation voted for in 2016 and in the General Election in 2019.
We do not want the trade talks to fail and the UK Government is not ‘deliberately stalling’ as the EU propagates. Extending the transition period will achieve nothing but further delay and uncertainty. The institutions, businesses and people of this country need certainty after 4 years of uncertainty.
Not extending the transition period is not about political ideology, as some assert; it is about standing up for this country against a bureaucratic bloc to which we will not bow our knee and be legally bound by its rules in the future. The EU needs to
be realistic that we are leaving the bloc, not wishing to join it and they must treat us how they treat other third countries.
If they do that, we can reach consensus and enjoy a future friendship, mutually beneficial to all.