British fishermen are worried Theresa May will sell out their industry to the EU, as Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier courts their European rivals in Denmark.
Fishing for Leave, the grassroots fishing industry campaign for Brexit which organised the seaborne protest which turned into the (in)famous Battle of the Thames, expressed concern after the Remain-supporting prime minister signalled fishing would form part of Britain’s “economic partnership” with the European Union.
The lion’s share of Western Europe’s fish are in British territorial waters, but EU member-states are required to surrender control over their fisheries — like their trade policy — to Brussels, which has resulted in a massive reduction in “fishing effort” as British stocks have been doled out to other EU member-states.
Talk of reduced “fishing effort” is a euphemism for massive job losses, with the British fleet declining by more than half since accession to the European Union — then called the European Economic Community — in the 1970s, accompanied by over 100,000 job losses at sea and in related industries onshore.
The Tory government of the late Edward ‘Ted’ Heath, which took Britain into the EEC, was well aware of the impact it would have on British fishermen, with a Scotland Office memo released years after entry revealing that the government had decided that “in the wider context they must be regarded as expendable”.
EU catches EIGHT times more fish in our waters than we catch in theirs! Regaining what's rightfully ours is worth approx £6bn to coastal communities.
Trapping UK in a transition where must re-obey disastrous CFP would surrender our fishing to grim fate!https://t.co/KLeswUUS69
— Fishing for Leave (@fishingforleave) February 28, 2018
George Eustice, the government minister responsible for fishing, recently conceded that “in the years 2012 to 2016, on average, each year, the EU fleet took 760,000 tonnes of fish from UK waters. In the same period, the average annual take of the UK fleet from EU waters was 90,000 tonnes” — a clearly unbalanced situation, which Fishing for Leave believes is depriving British coastal communities of some £6 billion in annual revenue.
Theresa May has said she intends to leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), but fishermen remained concerned that their industry will continue to decline if it is included in the so-called ‘transition period’ after March 2019, and that the final deal on fishing after that period may end up retaining much of its provisions.
“[Theresa May’s] words are dangerously close to Brexit-in-name-only and we hope this doesn’t mean that this is a strategy of continuing with the same pig wearing different Brexit lipstick,” commented Fishing for Leave spokesman Alan Hastings.
“The huge worry is that as negotiations progress, that when the reality starts to bite … the Government does not have the courage to walk away but in desperation throws our fishing industry to the EU as a sacrifice for a second time.
“Something has to give and we hope and pray that fishing and Britain’s coastal communities do not get mangled in the wider political context as we leave.”
Thank you Denmark 🇺 for your hospitality! Two important days in Copenhagen, Lemvig and Thyborøn. pic.twitter.com/pfrWNfLJE0
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) March 3, 2018
Meanwhile, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been in Denmark consulting with representatives of the Continental fishing industry, which has been able to grow and thrive by plundering more than 60 per cent of Britain’s fish.
The Frenchman has reportedly threatened harsh measures to “punish” fishermen in Britain if EU trawlers do not retain broad access to British waters, and published a video in English in which he said of Europe’s fishing communities: “I want to understand them. I want to listen to them. I want them to understand that I am working to do my best to protect their interests.”
Barnier’s intervention has prompted many British critics to suggest that if Brussels had taken a similar interest in Britain’s devastated coastal communities through the long years of decline, Britain may not have voted for Brexit in the first place.
“As much as no British fishermen wishes personal ill on other fishermen, where were the EU tears when our resources robbed and communities decimated?” asked Hastings.
“Does no one in the EU feel guilty that you built a future for the EU industry on robbing UK coastal communities of theirs?
“Time for [Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] Michael Gove to robustly defend UK interests so we can rejuvenate our communities that were sacrificed with a detrimental deal that benefited the EU.”