UK chief Brexit negotiator says EU’s approach to fisheries ‘manifestly unbalanced’

David Frost, speaking after the latest round of Brexit talks ended without agreement, made no attempt to hide UK frustration at the slow progress in the ongoing talks.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

10 Jun 2020

On the thorny issue of fisheries, arguably the main obstacle which remains to a trade deal being struck between the EU and UK, he said, “The EU continues to insist on fisheries arrangements and access to UK fishing waters in a way that is incompatible with our future status as an independent coastal state.”

The fishing industry is tiny, relative to the British economy (0.1 percent of economic output) and population and is even smaller for most EU Member States.

But, even so, fishing is disproportionately important to the Brexit saga and has emerged as a key flashpoint in the ongoing negotiations between the EU and UK.


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With well over half the tonnage of fish caught in UK waters landed by foreign-registered boats - roughly eight times the amount caught by British boats in EU countries' waters - it has also become commercially important to Member States’ fishing fleets.

Frost said, “We are fully committed to agreeing fishing provisions in line with the Political Declaration, but we cannot agree arrangements that are manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry.”

A decision on whether the two sides will agree to an extension to the transition period beyond 31 December is supposed to be made by 1 July.

“We are fully committed to agreeing fishing provisions in line with the Political Declaration, but we cannot agree arrangements that are manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry” David Frost, UK chief Brexit negotiator

Later this month, a high-level conference will see, among others, Boris Johnson, Council President Charles Michel and his Commission Counterpart Ursula von der Leyen reflecting on their negotiations.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would be trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

At the end of the fourth round of talks last Friday, Frost said in a statement, “We are now at an important moment for these talks.  We are close to reaching the limits of what we can achieve through the format of remote formal rounds. If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work. We are discussing with the Commission how this can best be done.”

“We need to conclude this negotiation in good time to enable people and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow the end of the transition period at the end of this year, and, if necessary, to allow ratification of any agreements reached.”

“For our part we are willing to work hard to see whether at least the outline of a balanced agreement, covering all issues, can be reached soon. Any such deal must of course accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called ‘level playing field’, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues.”

His intervention is timely as Fisheries Committee members are expected to quiz Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, on the fisheries element of the Brexit talks in a committee meeting on Thursday.

On Friday, members of the committees on Foreign Affairs and International Trade will vote on Parliament's recommendations for the negotiations of a new partnership with the UK.

Also speaking to this website, Pedro Silva Pereira, S&D spokesperson on the EU-UK negotiations, said that fisheries was one of “too many key areas where limited constructive talks are blocking progress.”

Silva Pereira said, “On fisheries, the S&D position has been always clear from the very beginning: no comprehensive agreement can be concluded between the EU and the UK without a balanced, sustainable, and long-term agreement on fisheries, including related matters such as access to waters, stocks management, and species protection.”

“Upholding the continuation of reciprocal access to waters, resources and markets is of utmost importance for both parties and also for local communities dependent on fishing activities” Pedro Silva Pereira, S&D spokesperson on EU-UK negotiations

“Upholding the continuation of reciprocal access to waters, resources and markets is of utmost importance for both parties and also for local communities dependent on fishing activities.”

“This is also the European Parliament’s position in its February resolution, where it is clearly stated that the negotiation with the UK on fisheries cannot be disconnected from the overall economic partnership.”

The Portuguese deputy went on, “As time is running out, we call on the British government to engage in a constructive manner towards an agreement in the coming weeks, as agreed in the Political Declaration.”

Rebecca Hubbard, Programme Director of Our Fish, a Brussels-based campaign group, also told this website, “Regardless of how the Brexit negotiations pan out over access to fisheries, the EU and UK government must agree on just one thing - that they will end overfishing in European waters - otherwise there simply won’t be enough fish left to bicker over.”

“All EU countries - including the UK - agreed to stop fishing beyond sustainable limits advised by scientists by 2020. It would be a dangerous and embarrassing position to allow patch warfare to put short-term political interests ahead of their work to progress global ocean governance and restoration.”

Further comment came from French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, who warned that the UK must be “more realistic” in its post-Brexit trade talks.

The RE member stressed that it was “possible” that the two sides would be able to reach a deal, but warned that “much progress has to be made in the negotiation.”

The former French Europe minister said, “For the time being, the UK negotiator is asking, for instance, for freedom of movement for service providers coming from the UK - we have never provided it to any of our trade partners.”

“Regardless of how the Brexit negotiations pan out over access to fisheries, the EU and UK government must agree on just one thing - that they will end overfishing in European waters - otherwise there simply won’t be enough fish left to bicker over” Rebecca Hubbard, Programme Director of Our Fish

“He is asking for reciprocity in terms of professional qualifications. This is something that we provide only to Member States. So the UK side has to become more realistic.”

On the level playing field, she said, “We believe on both sides of the Channel in high standards - so why don't we keep them? Why don't we commit ourselves legally as we have already done politically to keep these standards high, now and in the future?”

“To have high standards, converging standards, equivalent standards, for the benefit of our peoples.”

The EPP, in a statement, said it wants a “broad agreement with the UK covering a wide range of sectors”, adding “If the UK wants access to the EU market, it must respect EU market rules.”

On Tuesday, the UK Paymaster General, Penny Mordaunt, said Boris Johnson’s government will this week tell the EU it is not going to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period.

She told the House of Commons in an update on Brexit talks that she and Michael Gove would “emphasise that we will not be extending the transition period” when they meet EU counterparts at a Brexit joint committee meeting on Friday.

Meanwhile, speaking in the European Parliament on Monday, Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, warned that a no-deal Brexit risks causing “financial instability” on both sides of the channel.

She said, “The ECB has no role in these talks, which are in the capable hands of Michel Barnier and the UK.”

“We, however, are closely monitoring the financial risks of the Brexit scenarios. I have to say that resorting to WHO terms, though, will raise additional concerns for the Eurozone and also for the UK.”

Lagarde, addressing a meeting of Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, added that “the two sides must use the crucial time that remains to avoid a no deal.”

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