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UK Fish - How UK lost out to EU

The Brexit negotiations are drawing to a close. Ongoing talks prove that concessions are made, and it is more than likely that the UK has blinked many times already. After all, Boris has demonstrated that he is not prepared to leave the table.

We know that fisheries are an essential red line for both parties, together with “level playing field” and legislation. This article looks into how it came to be that UK catches less than 40% of the living marine resources in UK waters. Did UK parliamentarians enter EU with a blindfold?

When Britain joined the EEC (now EU) in 1973, there was (it seems) little parliamentary interest. Contemporary MPs failed to note the awkward fact that Britain would have to sacrifice its sovereignty over marine resources to become a member. It is up for debate whether the conservative PM Edward Heath knew better and misled the House. Still, it is a fact that the opposition failed to understand a crucial point about EU Fisheries Regulation that would regulate British fisheries. During the accession negotiations, it became quite clear that membership would grant equal access to all member state waters. The EU Fisheries Regulation stated that national fishery limits imposed by international law, shall be surrendered to EU control. They become Community waters, shared equally and without discrimination with every other member nation. This meant Britain having the largest and most bountiful living marine resource within the EU, would have to share it with all other members. Later, when Spain became a member in 1986, the UK fleet lost even more resources. Spain had a fishing capacity larger than all other EU states together. The consequences for UK fisheries caused by joining the EEC may not have been apparent at the time. Nevertheless, the number of UK fishing vessels dropped dramatically with lesser resources shared among an increasing number of member states. Naturally, the British people were not told these facts before admission in 1973, not even before the 1975 referendum where 67,2%, voted convincingly ‘yes” to remain in the EU.

In Norway, the opposite happened. Norway rejected EU membership in the 1972 referendum, with a meagre 53,5% majority, in a bid to maintaining sovereign control with farming, marine resources and oil. As in the UK, the Norwegian political majority advocated EU membership and the Norwegian parliament made another attempt to convince the population to vote for membership in the 1994 referendum. However, Norwegians maintained its scepticism, and the referendum precipitated a 52,2% majority to staying outside the EU. In 2019 only 16% of Norwegians would vote “Yes” to EU membership.

Following the UN “Law of the Sea” discussions during the 70s, Britain, Norway, Iceland and other coastal nations, increased their exclusive economic zones from 12 to 200 nautical miles. This happened in 1976 and was a significant disadvantage to UK fishers as the expansion gave no exclusivity to UK vessels. UK was obliged to share the expanded zone with all other EU states. To make it even worse, the traditional fishing waters off Norway and Iceland became effectively closed to UK vessels.

The European Union’s Council of Ministers sets the tonnage of specific fish or ‘Total Allowable Catch’ (TAC) in EU waters. The TAC is then divided between each member state. The quota each member state receives is based on how much they fished in those areas in the 1970s before the EU Common Fisheries Policy came into effect. Some academic research suggests that the UK catch only 30% of the fish from UK waters.

Fisheries is said to contribute less than 0,1% to the UK economy. Still, it has a tremendous political value to British sovereignty. Von der Leyen and Boris Johnson decided today, December 13 to continue negotiations into the coming week. Brexiteers are becoming increasingly nervous, and legitimately so.

The UK and Norway signed a historic agreement on fisheries on September 30, 2020. The negotiations were held in good faith on a low bureaucratic level and completed in a short time. The Norwegian deal regulates access rights and quotas between independent coastal states, precisely what the UK is attempting to do with EU.

France is catching 84% of the Channel cod, while the UK is allowed a meagre 9%. The French share of haddock from the Celtic Sea is 66% while UK is 10%. EU demands the continuation of such imbalance for perpetuity, still claiming negotiations are in “good faith”. Common sense can only find such an attitude arrogant and disrespectful.

We are moving into an exciting week. Failure to restore full supremacy over UK coastal waters will destroy the political legacy of Boris Johnson. History will then compare him with Neville Chamberlain - both of them failing to stand firm against political bullies. Appeasement is not an option. Now is the time to be brave and restore liberty and freedom for England and the UK.

For more details read: “The Betrayal of Britain’s Fishing to the European union” by John Ashworth

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