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Has Parliament Betrayed Our Fishermen Again?

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With agreement having been reached on a Brexit Deal on Christmas Eve, Boris Johnson had an important political victory for himself and his Party. One of the most pressing issues for all Brexiteers was of course fishing and the use of our own sovereign waters. The problem of continental countries plundering our marine stocks is well known, yet for decades nothing was done about it.

It was reported widely that President Macron of France was demanding 14 ½ years of access to Britain’s fishing waters, which of course was utterly preposterous. Under such terms there would be little point of leaving the EU from a maritime point of view. It was reported that Boris Johnson had apparently managed to bring that down to 5 ½ years, a time span which was a major aspect of the final deal and hailed as a victory by Conservative MPs.

However, the detail of the deal actually reveals this is not the case – and this has been confirmed by media such as Bloomberg. The deal actually stipulates that Britain takes back only 25% of the EU’s quota over 5 ½ years, rather than regaining full sovereignty and sole access over fishing in its waters. You would be right in thinking that this doesn’t sound like much of a victory at all.

President Macron and Chancellor Merkel allegedly brushed off attempts by Downing Street to regain 80% of the EU’s fishing quota, and Boris Johnson was so desperate for a deal before the deadline that he bowed to their demands. Analysts have claimed that British boats wouldn’t be able to catch all the stocks anyway, so it makes sense that EU boats should have the rest. Yet this ignores the rather obvious environmental argument that over-fishing is a genuine problem, and that barring EU boats from British waters would ease pressure on breeding grounds.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that’s not the only bad news either.

The government has also let fishing communities down by dropping the sought after stipulation of keeping foreign trawlers 12 miles from the British coast. The failure to get this key agreement means that French, Dutch, Spanish and Danish boats can plunder stocks right up to the shoreline without any pushback whatsoever. Michael Gove promised in 2017 when he was Environment Secretary that this policy would be implemented, and even boasted that the 12 mile zone would be extended to 200 miles, yet his party has dramatically gone back on their word.

It is of course true that British fishermen will be able to catch more than they did before, which will of course benefit the economy. For the processors, markets and fish and chip businesses, this will almost certainly be a boost. However, it remains to be seen whether the government – remember, Labour could be in charge in 5 ½ years – will use its naval assets to enforce the new quotas, and whether the EU may even stick to the agreements at all.

When Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, we were granted access to it in return for giving up our sole right to fish our sovereign waters. The promised compensation alluded to by the government after 5 decades of a shrinking fisheries industry has not come. Instead it seems that once again, despite being an island nation, our fishing fleets have been let down.

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