Michael Gove’s startling Brexit admission: ‘EU will continue to have access to UK waters’

Brexit has benefited UK farming and fishing claims Prentis

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Despite Downing Street calling a “mutual compromise”, it does seem Prime Minister Boris Johnson capitulated on one of the most contentious areas of Brexit trade talks: fishing rights. The UK wanted any fishing agreement to be separate from the trade deal with access negotiated annually in a similar fashion to Norway’s agreement with the bloc. Norway is an independent coastal state, with the rights and responsibilities under international law associated with that status. Stocks shared with the EU are managed through annual bilateral negotiations. Each autumn these talks set total allowable catches on the basis of scientific advice.

This contrasts starkly with the position of the UK fishing industry within the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy – something the EU wanted to maintain at all costs.

In the end, the UK agreed to a further five-and-a-half years of “predictability” for fishing communities, with the UK leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Stock quotas for UK fishers will increase over a five-year timeframe, incrementally between now and 2026.

This means Britain will fish just over 66 percent of UK waters – in stark contrast with Iceland, which catches 90 percent of its own fish.

During the transition, EU fishing vessels will still have full access to fish in UK waters and after that, negotiations will be annual just like the ones between Iceland and the bloc.

However, the EU will be able to retaliate with tariffs if Britain refuses to grant it access, meaning London will never be fully in control of its waters.

Britain’s softening on fishing rights was not exactly a surprise.

In 2017, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove told the Danish fishing industry that boats from EU countries would have still been able to operate in UK waters after Brexit, as the UK does not have enough capacity to catch and process all its fish alone.

He was quoted as saying: “Danish fishermen will still be able to catch large amounts of fish in British waters, even if Britain leaves the EU.

“Britain has not the fishing vessels nor the production facilities to catch all the fish in British waters.”

The comments from Mr Gove, recounted by Danish fishing leaders after they met the then-Environment Secretary, sparked complaints from the Lib Dems and Scottish National Party that the Government’s stance on the issue was confusing.

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Mr Gove had repeatedly said Britain was “taking back control” of its fisheries by departing from the EU common fisheries policy, which lets member states fish between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the UK’s coastline.

He had also announced the UK’s withdrawal from the London fisheries convention, signed before the UK joined the EU, which lets vessels from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands fish within between six and 12 nautical miles of each other’s coasts.

But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the plan had always been to allow other nations some access to UK territorial waters after Brexit, and that the extent of this could now be decided by the UK.

Mr Gove met representatives from Danish fish processing companies and the country’s fishing industry in Jutland in August 2017, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper reported.

At the meeting the Danes were told by Mr Gove that the UK “does not have the capacity to catch and process all the fish in British waters” and thus boats from EU nations would be allowed continued access post-Brexit.

Niels Wichmann, the head of the Danish Fishermen’s Association, said: “Fishermen from Denmark and other EU countries will continue to have access to British waters after Brexit.

“It is a logical announcement, but it is still very positive and a little surprising that it comes … so early in the negotiation process.”

Mr Wichmann added that Mr Gove did not make clear whether Danish boats would be able to keep the same quotas or would have them reduced.

Esben Sverdrup-Jensen, head of Denmark’s Fish Industries Association, told Jyllands-Posten that while the quotas remained uncertain, it was positive that the UK was “being constructive and has not slammed the door”.

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The Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said Mr Gove’s comments showed promises by the Leave campaign about fishing were being broken.

He said: “Michael Gove chose to put stopping EU fishing in British waters front and centre of his campaign to leave the EU, yet is now telling Danish fishermen the opposite.”

A Defra spokeswoman said the issue was that the UK would be able to control which foreign ships fished within its territory.

She said: “Leaving the EU means we will take back control of our territorial waters.

“As we have always said, other countries will be able to access our waters – but for the first time in 50 years it will be on our terms and under our control.

“We will allocate quotas on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, making sure we have a healthy marine environment and profitable fishing industry in the UK.”

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