How UK’s chief negotiator misled country on fishing rights

Geoffrey Rippon, the chief negotiator of Britain’s entry into the Common Market, misled the House of Commons in the early Seventies about losing the country’s fishing rights to Brussels, former Conservative Party minister Patrick Nicholls claimed in a recent report.

Brexit trade negotiations face collapse unless the EU abandons its demands for continued access to UK fishing waters, sources close to the talks warned last week. Brussels has called for EU boats to keep access under “existing conditions” as a price for the Free Trade Agreement being negotiated by the two sides. However, 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.

A UK source close to the negotiations said the EU’s red line would need to change, otherwise the talks could be terminated in June.

The source said: “There are some fundamentals that we’re not going to change, nor going to move on. Because they are not so much negotiating positions as they’re sort of what an independent state does.

“An independent state has independent control over coastal waters.

“What we are wanting now is an EU understanding that we are not going to subordinate our laws to them in any areas”.

As tensions are set to rise, a report for the Brexit think tank ‘Red Cell’ titled ‘Putting The Fisheries Negotiations Into Context’ has come to light.

Former Conservative Party minister Patrick Nicholls suggested in the March paper that it is Britain’s own fault if the country has been penalised by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Former Prime Minister Edward Heath took Britain in the European Economic Community (EEC) – the precursor to the EU – in 1973, after almost four years of negotiations.

According to one of the diplomats who led British officials in the delegation to negotiate Britain’s membership of the EEC, Mr Heath was so “desperate” to join that he “even effectively handed away our fishing grounds as a kind of late entry fee”.

In the paper, Mr Nicholls, who served as a junior employment minister between 1987 and 1990 and as a junior environment minister in 1990 under Margaret Thatcher, also recalled how Mr Heath’s chief negotiator on the Common Market, Geoffrey Rippon, misled the House of Commons about losing fishing rights to Brussels.

He wrote: “On Sunday, December 12, 1971, Geoffrey Rippon, by then Heath’s Chief Negotiator on the Common Market, concluded the negotiations on fisheries.

“The following day, he addressed the House of Commons.”

Mr Rippon is quoted as saying: “First it is clear that we retain full jurisdiction over the whole of our coastal waters up to 12 miles.

“Secondly, access to our coastal waters within six miles from our baseline is limited exclusively to British vessels.

“Next, in areas between six and 12 miles where the baselines are not in themselves a sufficient safeguard, or where the stocks are already fully exploited, the fishing will also be limited to British vessels and to those with existing rights to fish there for certain species of fish.”

The former Conservative MP for Teignbridge noted: “What Rippon did not tell the House was that this ‘derogation’ was, in ‘EU speak’ merely an exception limited to 10 years, but he then proceeded to compound the evasion with a lie.

“‘Here I must emphasise,’ he declared, ‘that these are not just transitional arrangements which automatically lapse at the end of a fixed period.’

“The implication was that the British had a veto on the final outcome.

“In fact at the end of the 10-year period Britain, which was contributing between 65 percent and 75 percent of the marine resource of the EEC, ended up with just 37 percent.”

Mr Nicholls concluded the betrayal was then “complete” but argued that a subsequent generation of Conservative MPs, including himself, armed with the growing realisation of what had been done.

He added: “It was not simply the unfairness of the quotas, but the fact that the CFP had become a conservation disaster, with British fishermen required by law to ‘discard,’ i.e throw overboard, perfectly viable fish, if they had swum into nets in excess of their quota.”

The CFP was a central part in the Brexit campaign and the majority of British fishermen and people living in coastal towns pushed for Britain to leave the bloc.

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