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MP sceptical as industry hopes for fisheries bill

Local whitefish boat Tranquility fishing off Shetland. Photo: Ivan ReidLocal whitefish boat Tranquility fishing off Shetland. Photo: Ivan Reid

TAKING full control of fisheries regulations once the UK has exited the EU in March 2019 is by no means a done deal yet, according to isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

He said suspicions would remain for as long as the UK government was unwilling or unable to give a straight answer to a straight question.

In parliament on Thursday, fishing minister George Eustice confirmed that regulations under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) would be transferred into domestic law.

Responding to a question from former Labour fishing minister Ben Bradshaw, he told MPs: “The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will bring across current EU legislation to provide continuity on the day we leave and in the context of fisheries this will include the body of technical conservation regulations currently set by the EU.”

Simon Collins of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association said that fishermen were led to believe that a fisheries bill would be introduced to parliament in 2018 to legislate for the UK having control of access to its waters and the right to set its own quotas.

Collins said he was satisfied that the current government would try to do what they had promised in their manifesto but wouldn’t go as far as saying he was confident that it would actually happen.

Carmichael meanwhile said it was “probably sensible” to roll over the CFP and then have the right to change “what we don’t like”.

However, he said his suspicion was raised when receiving answers from prime minister Theresa May like this one, two weeks ago:

“When we leave the EU we will be leaving the Common Fisheries Policy. As part of the agreement that we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously this and other issues will be part of that agreement, but when we leave the European Union, we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy.”

Carmichael said it would be a very easy thing to say for the government that fishing would not be negotiable, but they haven’t done so.

“The hesitation from the government is a little bit worrying,” he said, “and it does make me think that they still feel that this is something they could take to the table in term of the negotiations with the EU.

“I said many times during the recent general election that I wanted to see fishing ringfenced in the negotiations, because it always suffers from being traded off for car manufacturers or financial services.”

Collins, meanwhile, was more optimistic: “The UK government will introduce a fisheries bill in 2018 before coming out of the EU which will remove two very important pieces of the CFP, and therefore will not be rolled over.

“That is control of access to our waters and the other is the power for the UK to set its own quotas.

“These are the really critical parts, the other parts of the CFP would be desirable to change, but that has to wait until after Brexit because there isn’t the time to do it before.”

This means UK will be able to set its own quotas like other coastal states but fishermen will still have to comply with the EU discards ban as this and hundreds of other CFP regulations will be transferred into domestic law.

“We are satisfied with the UK government’s commitment to regaining control of access to our waters in 2019,” Collins said.

“It will take time to change the great mass of things, but the really important things, we are assured, will be in legislation next year.”