Four and a half years on, and it seems that an agreement between the EU and the UK on fisheries is as far off now as at any time since a slim majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.
As we have reported here in the last few days, Danish and Dutch fishermen in particular have responded furiously to the rumours of the percentages being offered on fisheries by EU negotiators to bring about a deal. The word is that it’s practically all there – except for the fish element.
While European fishermen are already stating that giving away one fish in four to the UK is tantamount to a sellout, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is also dismissive of the terms rumoured to be on the table.
‘Repatriating only 35% of the EU’s landings to the UK phased in over a period of several years would be a terrible deal for the fishing industry. If any of these “offers” are accurate, then in terms of percentages and length of transition period, they are utterly derisory and totally unacceptable to the Scottish fishing fleet,’ an SFF spokesperson said.
‘You cannot have sovereign control over your fishing waters with one hand tied behind your back. The UK would be a coastal state in name only. This is not what we were promised, and only last week the Prime Minister made the same point at PMQs. If this is indeed what is on the table, then the Prime Minister and his Government will have completely betrayed the promises they have made repeatedly, in public and in private, to our industry.’
The NFFO, representing the majority of the English industry, has been less forthright in its statements, commenting that many of the rumours have been wildly inaccurate during earlier phases in the negotiations.
‘We will wait for the definitive briefing from the UK negotiators, or the Prime Minister, before making comment,’ the NFFO stated.
‘The UK fishing industry (and the UK government) have been clear that as the UK leaves the EU and the transition phase, what we seek is an outcome consistent with our new status as an independent coastal state.’
These preferred outcomes include negotiated rights over access to fish in UK waters, annual fisheries agreements, an exclusive 12-mile limit, and a rebalancing of quota shares to reflect the resources in UK waters. To these can be added the requirement for ‘frictionless, access to market to the extent that this without surrendering sovereign fishing rights.’
So what are the chances of a deal being agreed? The deadline (on Sunday night) for the European Parliament to be able to examine and ratify the deal before the end of 2020 was passed – plus the UK’s Parliament will also need to go through the process of debate and ratification – leading to a situation in which negotiations could drag into the early part of 2021.
But all the indications are that whatever deal is reached on fisheries (if a belated agreement is finally reached…) the odds are that it’ll be an outcome that nobody will be happy with – and both European and UK fishermen will come away from all this adamant that they have been betrayed.