Britain could have followed Norway’s path and protected its waters from the EU, had former Prime Minister Edward Heath not considered fishing expendable when negotiating the country’s accession to the EEC, former MP for Grimsby and Brexit campaigner Austin Mitchell claimed in a recent report.
Before the negotiations on a future trade deal between the UK and Brussels started, the French government made it clear to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier that he had to push for stronger commitments on regulatory alignments and access to UK fishing waters in return for maintaining free trade. Ever since the 2016 EU referendum, French President Emmanuel Macron has been championing the bloc’s fisheries demands. In 2018, he suggested that if the UK was unwilling to compromise in negotiations on fishing, then talks on a wider trade deal would have been slow.
And in February, the Frenchman claimed he was willing to put up a fight over the issue.
Despite Mr. Macron’s hardline stance, the UK insists any fishing agreement must be separate from the trade deal with access negotiated annually in a similar fashion to Norway’s agreement with the bloc.
Norway is an independent coastal state, with the rights and responsibilities under international law associated with that status. Stocks shared with the EU are managed through annual bilateral negotiations. Each autumn these talks set total allowable catches on the basis of scientific advice.
Quota shares are then agreed to reflect the resources within each other’s respective zones, rather than historic catch patterns. Likewise, access to fish in each other’s waters is not an automatic right but is part of the annual negotiations. Quota exchanges of mutual benefit can also take place.
Above all, the agreement is reciprocal and balanced, meaning that both parties benefit more or less equally.
This contrasts starkly with the current position of the UK fishing industry within the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.
Britain’s desire to adopt Norway’s model could be seen as ironic, though, as in the early Seventies, London could have struck an agreement similar to the one it is now asking for.
In a report for the Brexit think tank ‘Red Cell’ titled ‘Putting The Fisheries Negotiations Into Context’ and published in March, former Grimsby MP and Brexit campaigner Austin Mitchell recalled how the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was cobbled together as Britain and Norway began negotiations to enter the Common Market in 1969.
He wrote: “The intention behind it was to get access to British and Norwegian waters.
“Norway rejected the proposal, but Ted Heath agreed to it in his desperation to get into the Market, assuming that British waters weren’t important because most of our catch then came from Iceland.”
Mr Mitchell added: “Big mistake.
“Within four years we’d lost Iceland to find that we couldn’t follow the rest of the world in taking our own 200 mile limits because the CFP made us part of a ‘European pool’ to which we contributed around three quarters of the catch but got the right to catch less than a third.
“The inevitable result was overfishing.
“The Commission doled out paper fish to please everyone. European vessels caught more of our own fish than we were allowed – 683,000 tonnes compared to 111000 in 2016.
“Policing to stop cheating and over-catching was inadequate but more importantly we couldn’t rebuild our fishing industry within our own waters as other nations were doing because British waters weren’t ours.
“So, both the industry and its processing side shrank, particularly in England because Scotland got a slightly better deal.”
Had former Prime Minister Edward Heath not considered fishing expendable when negotiating the country’s accession to the EEC, Britain could have then struck a deal similar to the one of Norway.
The nordic country is not a member state of the EU.
However, it is associated with the Union through its membership in agreements in the European Economic Area (EEA) established in 1994, and by virtue of being a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which was founded in 1960.
Norway had considered joining the European Community and EU twice, but opted to decline following referendums in 1972 and 1994.