Daily Mail

EU on the hook

84 per cent of all English Chan­nel cod is caught by French boats (yes, re­ally). So as we wran­gle over fish­ing rights in lat­est talks, DANIEL HAN­NAN ar­gues ...

- by Daniel Han­nan Brexit · European Politics · UK News · Politics · British Politics · European Union · United Kingdom · Michel Barnier · London · Boris Johnson · Government of the United Kingdom · Norway · Iceland · North Sea · United Airlines · England · Plymouth · Plymouth Argyle F.C. · Edward Heath · European Economic Community · Commonwealth of Nations · English Channel · Arbeidersparty · Scottish National Party · Daniel Hannan · Peterhead · Broadstairs


EvEN after all this time, they still don’t un­der­stand us. The Euro­pean Union clearly ex­pects Bri­tain, once again, to sur­ren­der its fish­ing grounds and be­tray its coastal com­mu­ni­ties for the sake of a wider, post- Brexit free trade agree­ment with Brus­sels.

Why else would the EU’s lead ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier, dis­play such in­tran­si­gence as a no-deal sce­nario looms closer?

Rather than bank­ing the un­con­tro­ver­sial parts of a UKEU free trade deal, Barnier, who ar­rived in Lon­don yes­ter­day for last- ditch talks, in­sists that a UK ‘cave-in’ on fish­eries is a pre-con­di­tion for agree­ment on, well, any­thing else.

After all, as Euro­crats keep as­sur­ing one an­other, fish­ing ac­counts for barely 0.1 per cent of the UK econ­omy.


Is it re­ally con­ceiv­able, they ask, that Boris John­son will jeop­ar­dise the in­ter­ests of Bri­tain’s bank­ing, in­sur­ance and in­vest­ment in­dus­tries for the sake of what has be­come al­most a her­itage in­dus­try?

They choose to ig­nore the re­al­ity that no Bri­tish government could con­tem­plate sur­ren­der­ing the prin­ci­ple that, as a sov­er­eign coun­try, we con­trol our own ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters.

There is plenty of room within that prin­ci­ple for gen­eros­ity. After half a cen­tury in the ru­inous Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy (CFP), we don’t have the ca­pac­ity to land all our own stocks. It makes sense to reach agree­ments with neigh­bour­ing states. This can be ne­go­ti­ated.

What can­not be ne­go­ti­ated is the ba­sic premise that Bri­tain is en­ti­tled, un­der mar­itime law, to dis­pose of stocks within its own sov­er­eign wa­ters, out to 200 nau­ti­cal miles ( or the me­dian line be­tween us and closer coun­tries) — just as Nor­way and Ice­land do.

The vast ma­jor­ity of fish stocks in the North Sea are in Bri­tish wa­ters. But the EU’s quota sys­tem re­serves more than two-thirds of those stocks for ves­sels from the other states. Even this fig­ure un­der­es­ti­mates the prob­lem, be­cause many Bri­tish skip­pers, un­able to make ends meet un­der the CFP, had to sell their li­cences to Con­ti­nen­tal fish­ing com­pa­nies. Thus, much of what on pa­per is the Bri­tish quota is in fact landed abroad.

In­deed, a fifth of the en­tire quota for Eng­land is caught by one 370 ft Dutch mega-trawler.

So how did we end up in this dis­as­trous po­si­tion? How did we come to sur­ren­der an en­tire in­dus­try, so that there is now not one major fish­ing port be­tween Ply­mouth and Peter­head?

It goes back to a cyn­i­cal be­trayal by Ed­ward Heath. Although pre­vi­ous Bri­tish lead­ers had wanted to join the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity (EEC), as it then was, none of them was as des­per­ate to do so as the grumpy Broad­stairs bach­e­lor.

Heath was pre­pared to pay any price for ad­mis­sion — be­trayal of the Com­mon­wealth, ac­cep­tance of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy, an ex­ter­nal tar­iff that ham­mered our overseas trade.

It so hap­pened that, just as Bri­tain was join­ing, mar­itime law was chang­ing so that coun­tries gained fish­ing rights over a much larger area around their coasts. The is­sue that was to lead, in 1975, to the ‘cod war’ and the ex­clu­sion of Bri­tish ves­sels from all wa­ters within 200 miles of Ice­land.

The loss of our his­toric fish­ing rights off Ice­land should have been more than off­set by our stocks in the North Sea and the Chan­nel. But Brus­sels, sens­ing Heath’s des­per­a­tion, fore­stalled that move by im­pos­ing the CFP with its shriv­elled Bri­tish share.

This es­tab­lished the prin­ci­ple that stocks in the wa­ters of any state con­sti­tuted a ‘com­mon re­source’ to which all mem­bers had ‘equal ac­cess’. In prac­tice, it was a one-way street. French and Dutch and, later, Span­ish and Portuguese ves­sels fished ex­ten­sively in Bri­tish wa­ters, but the re­verse was rare.

After all, the stocks were over­whelm­ingly con­cen­trated within what should have been our ex­clu­sive zone.

Euro-en­thu­si­asts some­times try to de­fend the CFP on the grounds that ‘ fish don’t recog­nise na­tional borders’. This state­ment (of­fered as if it were an orig­i­nal in­sight) is true all over the world. Other na­tions make sen­si­ble agree­ments. If fish spawn in the wa­ters of coun­try A, but reach ma­tu­rity in the wa­ters of coun­try B, both coun­tries have an in­cen­tive to limit their to­tal catch.

Sadly, the ‘com­mon re­source’ prin­ci­ple un­der­mined such in­cen­tives. The re­sult was eco­log­i­cal catas­tro­phe as North Sea stocks col­lapsed.

Deal or no deal, the UK has an al­ter­na­tive sys­tem ready to op­er­ate from Jan­uary 1, 2021.

The Fish­eries Bill, now com­plet­ing its pas­sage through Par­lia­ment, pro­vides for a sus­tain­able fish­eries regime, with pro­tec­tion for dol­phins and un­in­tended by­catches (fish or other ma­rine species caught un­in­ten­tion­ally when tar­get­ing other species or spe­cific sizes of stock), and the con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing of stocks.


The wa­ters around our archipelag­o can once again be­come a great re­new­able re­source.

The ques­tion is whether the EU will ex­clude its ves­sels from those wa­ters — the in­eluctable con­se­quence of no deal.

At present, around 90 per cent of cod fished in the English Chan­nel is caught by Euro­pean boats — 84 per cent by French boats. Their liveli­hood is now se­ri­ously en­dan­gered.

Not that Barnier seems to care much about the in­ter­ests of Euro­pean cit­i­zens. At the start of talks, he re­port­edly told EU heads that his job was to make the exit terms so bad that the Bri­tish would rather not leave. I have al­ways as­sumed that, if he had to choose, he would rather see both sides suf­fer than watch a post-EU Bri­tain pros­per.

Do the 27 na­tional lead­ers feel the same way? Un­like Barnier, they need to be re-elected. None of them wants a break­down in re­la­tions with their big­gest cus­tomer dur­ing what is al­ready the worst re­ces­sion in his­tory.

But, de­spite the care­ful leaks we keep read­ing about how ready they are for no deal, few of them see it as likely.


They still expect Boris, Heath­like, to aban­don our re­main­ing fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties rather than face no deal.

This is a fun­da­men­tal mis­cal­cu­la­tion. Boris John­son’s mis­sion is to align his party with such com­mu­ni­ties, ce­ment­ing its dom­i­nance in for­mer Labour seats.

Nor, at a time when the SNP is ahead in the polls, can any UK leader look as if he is sac­ri­fic­ing a Scot­tish in­ter­est to a Lon­don one.

In any case, the pan­demic has fun­da­men­tally al­tered the costs and ben­e­fits. Our en­tire econ­omy is go­ing to look dif­fer­ent com­ing out of this re­ces­sion.

The im­pact of no deal is not sym­met­ri­cal. Yes, Bri­tain would face more friction on its Euro­pean trade but, from day one, it could re­form its tar­iffs and reg­u­la­tions to boost re­cov­ery. The EU would face more friction on its Bri­tish trade but without any com­pen­sat­ing ad­van­tages.

Still, a break­down should be avoided if pos­si­ble. Hence Bri­tain’s of­fer to agree the least dif­fi­cult parts of a deal — in­clud­ing con­trolled ac­cess to Bri­tish wa­ters for EU ves­sels.

That Brus­sels re­fuses to dis­cuss such a pro­posal sug­gests that a mutually ben­e­fi­cial out­come was never high on its list in the first place.

Daniel Han­nan is a for­mer MeP and the pres­i­dent of the ini­tia­tive for Free Trade.

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