MEPs urge EU to ensure reciprocal access to fishing waters in ongoing Brexit talks

Deputies argue that European fishermen should continue to have “unlimited” access to UK waters, irrespective of whether a deal is done or not.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Nov 2020

As Brexit talks continue in Brussels this week, MEPs said during a debate on fisheries and Brexit that there should be reciprocal access to fishing waters and voiced concern about having enough time to scrutinise any deal.

In Parliament’s fisheries committee on Monday Dutch EPP member Peter van Dalen said it would be “disastrous” if European fishermen no longer have access to British waters.

He said, “The Brits seem to still want to have the right to sell fish in the internal market but are arguing that European fishermen are prevented from fishing in UK waters, something that has been done for centuries. To do otherwise would be a disaster.”

“If a deal is done I understand the text could run to 1,800 pages and I want to have time to read that. Boris Johnson is clearly under huge pressure in the UK and wants to keep access to the single market, but I hope the Brits will use their common sense and reach an agreement that will also be good for our fisheries sector.”

Spanish Renew Europe member Izaskun Bilbao said, “Michel Barnier has always said there will be no deal without a fisheries agreement but there is still some concern about this.”

“The Brits seem to still want to have the right to sell fish in the internal market but are arguing that European fishermen are prevented from fishing in UK waters, something that has been done for centuries. To do otherwise would be a disaster” Peter van Dalen, EPP

“It will also be very difficult to meet the 31 December deadline if no deal is done this week. So it is urgent and we need a deal by 19 November. Either way, we must defend the interests of our fisheries sector which should not be left behind by all this.”

Irish Greens member Grace O’Sullivan told the meeting, “Time is passing quickly and fisheries seems to be the really contentious issue but the UK must recognise the dilemma it is putting the EU in. We need time to assess any deal and this committee needs time for due diligence to scrutinise any document. Time is crucial and we must make this clear to the other committees.”

“There is also the impact of Brexit on the marine environment to consider and, again, we need time to scrutinise this.”

Spanish EPP member Gabriel Mato said, “There should be no deal unless it includes fisheries and we must be steadfast on this. This is logical because we need continued access to UK fishing waters.”

He continued, “Our fishermen were fishing in UK waters before the EU existed. This is not something we can just leave aside. Yes, time is running out but this cannot be an excuse for fisheries to be left out of any deal. This Parliament should make this clear.”

“Fisheries is vital in any Brexit deal. We cannot remain silent on this. We must have an unlimited access agreement. This is important for the fisheries sector in Europe. The UK will have difficulty managing fisheries unless it does so with the EU” Nicolás González Casares, S&D

Spanish Socialist Nicolás González Casares told the meeting, “Fisheries is vital in any Brexit deal. We cannot remain silent on this. We must have an unlimited access agreement. This is important for the fisheries sector in Europe. The UK will have difficulty managing fisheries unless it does so with the EU.”

Dutch ECR member Bert-Jan Ruissen noted, “There is an enormous amount at stake for our fishing sector. Whatever happens we cannot allow fisheries to be removed from the equation and if the Brits are not prepared to give us access to their waters and respect the quota distribution we cannot talk about a trade deal. Let us keep that link.”

The committee’s rapporteur on Brexit, French EPP member François-Xavier Bellamy, said, “I know this is one of the most sensitive topics, but it is vital for fisheries to remain at the heart of the talks and there is no way to leave fisheries by the wayside.”

“That would be very dangerous and cause huge problems for our fishermen. We also need time to scrutinise any deal and not vote on it quickly until we have given our view on it.”

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