EU de­mands right to fish UK wa­ters

The Dominion Post - - World -

Euro­pean Union fish­ing fleets must be given wide-rang­ing ac­cess to Bri­tish coastal wa­ters as the price of agree­ing an all-UK Brexit di­vorce deal, The Daily Tele­graph can dis­close.

Se­nior EU diplo­mats have said that any plan to grant the UK a tem­po­rary cus­toms union to solve the Ir­ish back­stop prob­lem must come with cast-iron guar­an­tees that EU boats will be free to fish in UK wa­ters.

The de­mands threaten to re­open a fierce dis­pute within the Con­ser­va­tive party over the po­ten­tial size of the Brexit div­i­dend for coastal and fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Fish­er­men warned Theresa May yes­ter­day that she must not ‘‘squan­der’’ the chance to claw back valu­able quo­tas for Bri­tish fleets, while MPs rep­re­sent­ing fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties said ex­tend­ing the present ar­range­ment would be ‘‘to­tally un­ac­cept­able’’.

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 on Tues­day next week. Do­minic Raab, the Brexit Sec­re­tary, would then travel to Brus­sels to agree the text with the EU be­fore May pre­sented the plan to Par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day.

There were re­ports yes­ter­day that EU lead­ers had been told to keep Sun­day No­vem­ber 25 free for a pos­si­ble sum­mit in Brus­sels to rat­ify the deal. That would en­able Par­lia­ment to vote be­fore Christ­mas. But May faced con­tin­ued de­mands to pub­lish the full le­gal ad­vice on which her pro­pos­als for the back­stop ar­range­ment were based, with David Davis, the for­mer Brexit sec­re­tary, sug­gest­ing she was re­luc­tant to do so as she was yet to pin down key points.

Jeremy Hunt, the For­eign Sec­re­tary, said agree­ing a deal within the next week would be ‘‘push­ing it’’ but was con­fi­dent an agree­ment could be reached by the end of the month.

There were fears, how­ever, that EU ne­go­tia­tors would use the ‘‘tick­ing clock’’ as lever­age to en­sure EU fish­ing fleets kept their cur­rent lev­els of ac­cess to Bri­tish wa­ters for as long as the UK re­mained in a cus­toms union.

May has ne­go­ti­ated for a UKwide back­stop 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. The EU wanted a North­ern Ire­land-only back­stop and was de­ter­mined to ex­tract a high price for al­low­ing the whole of 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 for its trawlers, even though the UK will have left the Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy. The French, Dan­ish, Span­ish and Por­tuguese govern­ments are un­der par­tic­u­lar pres­sure to de­liver for their fleets. One EU diplo­mat said: ‘‘It is para­mount that the UK gives as­sur­ances on the ac­cess of the Euro­pean fleet to UK wa­ters be­fore the EU can agree to a UK-wide back­stop.’’ An­other diplo­mat from a ma­jor EU fish­ing power said: ‘‘There can be a cus­toms union, but there must be rules to en­sure EU fish­er­men will be able to con­tinue to fish in UK wa­ters, oth­er­wise there is no point in hav­ing a cus­toms union.’’

Bri­tain cur­rently keeps just 40 per cent of fish from its wa­ters, with 60 per cent go­ing to EU fish­ing fleets.

The prime min­is­ter said last month: ‘‘Once the EU rules no longer ap­ply to the UK, we will be an in­de­pen­dent coastal state. We will be mak­ing our own de­ci­sions, con­trol­ling ac­cess to our own wa­ters, and we will be seek­ing to gain a fairer share of quo­tas.’’

Ram­say Jones, of the Scot­tish Fish­er­men’s Fed­er­a­tion, said: ‘‘We are against any guar­an­tee of full con­tin­ued ac­cess for the EU be­yond De­cem­ber 2020.

‘‘The Gov­ern­ment must stand true to what it has said.’’– Tele­graph Group

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