Fishy Brexit deal
European Union fishing fleets must be given wide-ranging access to British coastal waters as the price of agreeing an allUK Brexit divorce deal.
Senior EU diplomats have said any plan to grant the UK a temporary customs union to solve the Irish border problem must come with cast-iron guarantees EU boats can fish in British waters. The demands threaten to reopen a fierce dispute within the Conservative party over the size of the Brexit dividend for fishing communities.
Fishermen’s groups warned Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday she must not “squander” the chance to claw back valuable quotas for British fleets.
It came as Downing Street signalled it was desperate to clinch a Brexit deal before the end of the month, with a timetable circulating in Whitehall suggesting the outlines of a withdrawal agreement text may be agreed by the Cabinet by Tuesday.
There were fears EU negotiators would use the “ticking clock” as leverage to ensure its fishing fleets kept their access to British waters for as long as the UK was in a customs union.
Mrs May has negotiated for a UK-wide “backstop” temporary arrangement to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, if no trade deal can be finalised by the end of the transition period in December 2020. A hard border would mean customs barriers and checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK), where goods now flow freely.
The EU wanted a Northern Ireland-only backstop and was determined to extract a high price for allowing all the UK to be included in the arrangement.
A UK-wide customs union deal would hand quota and tariff-free access to EU markets for the British fishing industry, which exports 75 per cent of its total catch to Europe. In return for that market access, the EU has made clear it will demand continued access to UK waters.
Britain keeps just 40 per cent of fish from its waters, with 60 per cent going to EU fleets. Mrs May said last month once EU rules no longer applied, Britain would want a fairer share.