WITH the post-Brexit trade talks likely to go to the wire over coming days, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has suggested that it is now almost inevitable that promises made to fishermen will be broken.
While 97 per cent of a trade deal has been agreed, automatic access for EU fishing vessels to UK waters remains one of the main stumbling points.
The latest media reports, though, suggest the UK’s negotiation position has shifted enough to bring a deal – as part of a hard Brexit – over the line between now and the 31 December.
The UK officially left the European Union on 31 January but remains in the single market and customs union during a transition period until the end of this year to give sufficient time to negotiate a trade deal beneficial to both sides.
Speaking from Orkney earlier this week Carmichael said that domestically it was obvious that the UK government was trying to create a political atmosphere in which a “reluctant compromise” with the EU was becoming palatable, even for the hard-line Brexiteers within prime minister Boris Johnson’s own cabinet.
“Rather than being seen as giving in, they want to be seen as reluctantly compromising, because they have to sell it to their home audience, and in particular to the nationalists in their own back benches, and all the people who have voted them in a year ago,” the Liberal Democrat MP said.
With fishing – and particularly the question of who controls access of EU fishing fleets to UK waters – playing centre role in the trade talks, the industry has high hopes of leaving the dreaded Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) behind while taking back control of its own destiny.
Carmichael stressed that it was not him, or the Lib Dems, who had promised the fishing industry “all these great things”.
“I don’t want to see the fishing industry disappointed and led down yet again, and I think the reason why the industry wanted to be given these assurances were good and legitimate,” he said.
“Will they [UK Government] be prepared to deliver on their promises? My suspicion is that they will not be.
“That’s what I mean about the government trying to create the environment where they are seen to bow to pressure, rather than willingly giving in.
“This is a situation that is entirely of the government’s making and there will be a heavy price for them to pay if they give ground that the industry does not want them to give.
“And I feel that there is an inevitability about this now.”
And he added: “I think that the politically savvy operators within the fishing industry know that they are not going to get everything that they were promised; the question now is whether they can get enough to feel that they have been satisfied or whether what they are left with they see as a betrayal.
“The challenge for Boris Johnson and [chief negotiator] David Frost is to be able to give enough ground in order to get a deal without giving so much that they are seen as given in and sold out the industry. I think what we are probably looking at is a phased return of control.”
With suggestions that a EU trade deal could be struck by the weekend, there is very little time left for it to go through parliament.
“I don’t think meaningful scrutiny will be possible in the time that remains – and I am pretty sure that is another reason why Boris Johnson has managed this in the way that he has done,” Carmichael said.
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