Fishy Brexit deal

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER -

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.

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