The Prime Minister’s cave-in to Brussels’ demands on fishing rights is unacceptable

The Prime Minister’s cave-in to Brussels’ demands on fishing rights is unacceptable

History often teaches us lessons that we can learn from as we move forward.

In 1971, in response to the UK’s application to join the European Economic Community, the original six member states insisted on equal access to UK fishing waters. The then Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, agreed – and after more than a decade of negotiations about the share of the fish stock within those waters, the UK accepted a proposed share which fell far short of the quantity from which we should have benefited. Indeed, off the Cornish coast the UK share is approximately 10% of haddock and 8% of cod whereby the French Government secured around 70% of each stock.

British fishermen felt that they had been thrown a lifeline when the UK voted to Leave the European Union. They felt they could face their future with optimism for the first time in over 40 years.

They were also promised by the Prime Minister, Environment Secretary and many senior Cabinet figures that the UK would be leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and that the fish stocks in our waters would be governed by Article 61, 62 and 63 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The wording of this Convention is very important because it makes clear that the UK must act responsibly when setting the total amount of fish that can be taken from our waters (200-mile to median line limit). It also makes clear that the UK domestic fleet can take the whole of that fish, but if our fleet cannot, then the surplus can be made available to other nations.

One would think this means that the UK fleet can benefit considerably from a larger catch after 11pm on 29th March 2019. Sadly, this is not the case because of the Prime Minister’s agreement on an implementation period of 21 months.

At the time this was first proposed, MPs from fishing constituencies – including me – met with the Prime Minister and said that any implementation for fisheries should only apply until 31st December 2019. The EU would not accept this and the UK Government caved in and agreed that UK fishermen would have to stick to the same share they received under the Common Fisheries Policy of a further 21 months. UK fishermen reluctantly accepted this.

The Withdrawal Agreement, which has now been published, contains a proposal that the implementation period can be extended and that the UK can only withdraw from the Northern Irish backstop with the agreement of the EU. What is the problem with, this one could ask?

On Wednesday morning (14th November), it was reported that Sabine Weyand, Michel Barnier’s deputy who leads the EU’s negotiations at a technical level, said that the UK would be forced to concede on fisheries as part of a withdrawal agreement, meaning Britain would have to “swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”.

The Prime Minister and Environment Secretary have said repeatedly that they would not use UK fish as a currency to buy into the market. I therefore fear that any future trade negotiations would result in stalemate and we would be tied into the backstop indefinitely, or UK fish stocks would be used to buy into a trade deal with the EU.

After fighting for fairness for our fishermen for almost 30 years, I cannot let them, my country or the UK down. And that is why I have submitted my letter of no confidence in Theresa May to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.