Brexit has brought the issue of fisheries to the fore and Michel Barnier has made repeated efforts to ensure the UK remains chained to Brussels’ Common Fisheries agreement – so when Britain withdrew from another fishing treaty, he was swift to hit back.
In December 2017, the UK announced it would pull out of the London Fisheries Convention, a treaty affording 11 other nations the right of full access to the fishing grounds between 6 and 12 nautical miles of the national coastline. Countries signed up to the agreement include France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland. Michael Gove said at the time: “This is an historic first step towards building a new domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union.
”It means for the first time in more than 50 years, we will be able to decide who can access our waters.”
One figure who was not so pleased was Mr Barnier, who made a point of emphasising at the time that the UK must still follow EU laws.
He said on Twitter that nothing would change because the EU’s fishery laws are superior to the London Convention.
His tweet read: “UK denunciation of London Convention=no change: EU law/Common Fisheries Policy had superseded it. EU 27 interests=my priority for negotiations.”
The Common Fisheries Policy was at the centre of Brexit debate during the 2016 referendum campaigns, as UK fishermen fumed at vessels from other EU member states travelling to British waters.
According to NAFC Marine Centre’s data, UK vessels land 32 percent of fish in its waters, while EU states combined take 43 percent.
Norway, which is not an EU member state, takes 21 percent.
While a bug bear for Britain’s fishermen, the fisheries conundrum could give Prime Minister Boris Johnson the upper hand in trade talks given how beneficial British waters have been to European businesses.
Between 2012-2016 for example, France caught 120,000 tonnes of fish worth £171million, according to Marine Management Organisation figures.
The Netherlands and Denmark both caught around £90million’s worth.
But the UK only gained £17million’s worth of landing from French waters in the same period.
As things stand, the EU27 have backed Brussels’ red lines on trade talks with the UK – meaning the bloc will demand access to British waters in return for access to European markets.
This will likely lead to a stalemate however, as Prime Minister Johnson and his government have passed a bill through Parliament which guarantees the UK is no longer part of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy come December.
It will also end the automatic right of EU ships to fish in British waters.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said at the time: “This new Fisheries Bill takes back control of our waters, enabling the UK to create a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for our coastal communities, whilst securing the long-term health of British fisheries.
“Leaving the EU’s failed Common Fisheries Policy is one of the most important benefits of Brexit.”
As Brussels dig their heels in on fishing rights in British waters, Mr Johnson could be in for yet another lengthy impasse.