Cabinet Remainer-in-Chief Philip Hammond has sparked anxiety in Britain’s coastal communities by casually announcing that the country’s fisheries could be sold out as part of a Brexit deal.
Speaking shortly after Brussels said it would demand continued access to British fishing waters as the price of a limited free trade deal covering physical goods, overseen by EU institutions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: “Of course we would be open to discussing with our EU partners about the appropriate arrangements for reciprocal access for our fishermen to EU waters and for EU fishermen to our waters.”
The 62-year-old’s reasonable-sounding words gloss over the fact that the current “reciprocal” arrangement sees British-flagged trawlers catching just 90,000 tonnes from the waters of other EU member-states, while EU-flagged boats are dragging up a whopping 760,000 tonnes of British fish — around 60 per cent of the catch.
Brexit-supporting Fishermen Worried May Will Sell Them out After ‘30 Years of Torment that Seemed Neverending’ https://t.co/Q808q0InO9
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 6, 2018
Memories of the late Prime Minister Edward ‘Ted’ Heath’s 1970s sellout of Britain’s fishing industry to the EU — then called the EEC — are long, and were reinforced by the release of secret documents revealing that the government’s position on the fishermen had been that “in the wider context they must be regarded as expendable” in the 2000s.
Over a hundred thousand jobs were lost at sea and on shore as Brussels took over the management of Britain’s stocks under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), with the blow falling particularly hard on Scotland, where even the Scottish National Party — normally slavishly loyal to the EU — complained that “the dead hand of Brussels mismanagement” had been “disastrous for Scotland’s fishing communities, the Scottish economy and our maritime environment”.
Alan Hastings, speaking for the grassroots Fishing for Leave campaign which organised the famous Battle of the Thames, which saw British fishermen clash with middle-class Remainers aboard a “floating gin palace” captained by Bob Geldof, was damning.
Hastings accused the government of “testing the water to see if they can get away with sacrificing what’s left of British fishing and with it thousands of people’s lives and heritage”, and branded them “sleekit surrender monkeys”.
The SNP would give its fishing waters back to “the dead hand of Brussels mismanagement”. https://t.co/M6GaFMV5ku
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 11, 2017
Simon Collins, of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, said the EU’s demands to retain control of Britain’s fisheries were “completely unacceptable“.
“As an opening gambit goes, the EU’s stance is arrogant, absurd and nonsensical,” he said.
“The UK will become an independent coastal state on 29 March 2019, and we insist that it exercises its rights and responsibilities as such immediately.
“No coastal state currently offers the EU guarantees of access to its waters and natural resources, and neither should we.”
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, echoed these sentiments, saying: “When we leave the EU we leave the Common Fisheries Policy and assume our rightful place at the table as a coastal state.
“Each year we will then decide who catches what, where and when. The days of the EU taking 60% of our fish are coming to an end. The sea of opportunity is within reach.”
Norway and Iceland, which are not EU member-states but submit to quasi-membership of the Single Market through the European Economic Area (EEA), have nevertheless retained full control over their fishing waters, negotiating shared management issues through the North-west Atlantic Fishing Organisation (NAFO) — where they retain independent representation, unlike EU member-states.