FISHING leaders have reacted with fury after it emerged that the UK will remain part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) during the two-year Brexit transition period due to begin in 12 months’ time.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) said the case for different treatment of the fishing industry had been “squandered without a fight”, while the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) said it “falls far short of an acceptable deal”.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael accused UK Prime Minister Theresa May of “failing to deliver on promises made to the fishing industry about their future post-Brexit”.
While almost the entire industry campaigned to leave the EU to escape the clutches of the hated CFP, many others warned that UK Government negotiators may ultimately view fishing – representing just 0.05 per cent of the country’s GDP – as dispensable in the way the Tories did upon joining the EU in the 1970s.
The industry had been promised as recently as last week by environment minister Michael Gove and the Conservatives’ Scottish leader Ruth Davidson that it would withdraw from the CFP on the day of leaving the EU.
But agreement has now been reached for the UK to be “consulted” on arrangements, with the EU continuing to set quotas during the transition – expected to last from March 2019 until December 2020.
The SFA’s executive officer Simon Collins said it was an “extremely harmful deal in two respects”.
“Firstly it takes us backwards from where we are now by depriving the UK of influence on every major aspect of fisheries, in effect for two years,” he said. “Instead of gaining sovereignty over our waters, we are actually ceding most of what little control we have at present.
“Secondly, the failure of our negotiators to stand up for the fishing industry’s interests has destroyed our trust in our own government, and it will take a monumental effort on their part to restore this.
“The case for fisheries to be treated differently during the a transition period was both unique and strong – but it has been squandered without a fight.”
Carmichael said: “This is not the deal that fishermen across the country were promised by the Leave campaign, or by Michael Gove and the Prime Minister. The negotiating weaknesses of the government must not be allowed to lead to long term losses for the industry.
“The Prime Minister committed us to leaving the CFP when we leave the EU, and has now let down fishing communities across the country by watering down this commitment.
“The government have let down fishermen for the first two years after Brexit, the question now is whether they will let them down indefinitely at the end of the transition deal.”
SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the UK would “leave the EU and leave the CFP, but hand back sovereignty over our seas a few seconds later”.
“Our fishing communities’ fortunes will still be subject to the whim and largesse of the EU for another two years,” he said.
“Put simply, we do not trust them to look after us. So we issue this warning to the EU: be careful what you do or the consequences later will be severe. To our politicians we say this: some have tried to secure a better deal but our governments have let us down.
“As a consequence, we expect a written, cast iron guarantee that after the implementation period, sovereignty will mean sovereignty and we will not enter into any deal which gives any other nation or the EU continued rights of access or quota other than those negotiated as part of the annual Coastal States negotiations.”
Following Monday’s development, Davidson issued a statement saying she recognised the industry was “deeply frustrated”, adding: “Over the long term, today’s agreement makes clear that, from 2020, the UK will be an independent coastal state, deciding who can access our waters and on what terms.
“So I should make it clear today that I will not support a deal as we leave the EU which, over the long term, fails to deliver that full control over fish stocks and vessel access.”
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