We must not fail the British fishing industry in the Brexit negotiations

We must not fail the British fishing industry in the Brexit negotiations

The EU won’t tolerate Britain cherry-picking in the Brexit negotiations. That’s only allowed by Europe. Its negotiating guidelines allow them to cherry-pick on the Northern Ireland border, on Gibraltar (though not on the Elgin Marbles to solace Greece’s misery) and to Europe’s subsidised fishermen by maintaining access to Britain’s rich fishing waters.

That’s a piece of legal chicanery. When we’re out, we’re out – and the exemption of EU vessels from the terms of the 1976 Fishery Limits Act lapses, excluding them from the 200-mile limit round much of Britain and the median line in narrower waters.

That’s international law. It’s also why the negotiations for Iceland to join the EU were aborted when it refused EU access to waters in which they’d developed sustainable fishing. Facing this refusal, the EU didn’t dare put the demand they’re putting to us by requiring catches in Icelandic waters in return for free market access for Icelandic fish. They needed the fish and knew it would be flatly refused. As it should be by us.

Let’s be clear. Only the nation state has an interest in conserving the fish stocks in its own waters and requiring sustainable fishing. For outsiders, they’re a lootable resource. There is no prospect of rebuilding British stocks and the British fishing industry if we continue to abide by the Common Fisheries Policy which gives us a third of the catch when we provide more than two thirds of the stocks.

Fishing needs investment. Investment needs certainty. That’s hardly possible when Brussels doles out our fish as political favours to please others and allows them to subsidise their industry and landings when we don’t.

The EU answer will be that fish don’t carry passports and in fisheries more mixed than Icelandic or Norwegian, stocks swim in and out of territorial limits. So they do. Yet it’s hardly conceivable that EU competitors will be so angry at exclusion that they’ll overfish breeding stocks to prevent them coming to British waters.

In any case, the EU’s method of dealing with mixed fisheries by doling out quotas is the worst possible way of doing it. It guarantees that any fish caught out of quota have to be chucked back. So discards increase as quotas tighten.

Ted Heath regarded fishing as disposable because it endangered his desire to get into the EU at any cost. Since then it’s always been sacrificed to advance other objectives which we didn’t gain anyway.

It’s more than time to end the protracted farce of the CFP. If Brexit doesn’t do it, it fails the fishing industry and the coastal communities which depend on it.