EU demands right to fish UK waters
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