Brexit has caused fractures between the four nations of the UK – and this was prevalent when former Prime Minister Theresa May accused the Scottish National Party and Nicola Sturgeon of plotting “a real sell out” of Scotland’s fishermen.
Fisheries has become a key issue during the Brexit process, and Mrs May sought early on to ensure the UK regained control of its waters. In her withdrawal agreement, Mrs May set out a plan for this while the SNP’s leader Ms Sturgeon took a different approach. The Scottish First Minister proposed to take Scotland back into the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) – a policy that provoked most fishermen to vote leave.
Ian Blackford, who serves as the SNP’s leader in the House of Commons, took aim at the Conservative Government in the Parliament on multiple occasions.
In 2018, he said: “Scottish fishing rights were thrown overboard as if they were discarded fish.
“So much for taking back control. More like trading away Scotland’s interests.
“This is an absolute dereliction of the promises Scottish Conservative members and the secretary of the state for the environment, food and rural affairs made to Scotland. Shame on them.”
A few days later he accused Mrs May and her party of selling out Scottish fishermen, leading to a fiery row.
The then-Prime Minister responded: “He talked about a sell out of Scottish fishermen, the real sell out of fishermen is the SNP’s policy to stay in the Common Fisheries Policy.
“Who is it that has been standing up for Scottish fishermen in this house? The Conservative Party.”
But Mrs May faced accusations of failing fishermen in the UK herself.
Nigel Farage – a leading Brexiteer – said fisheries was the “acid test” of Brexit and claimed that Mrs May’s proposed deal at the time was “hugely worrying and will have significant financial consequences”.
He added: “I said during and after the referendum that fishing was going to be the acid test of Brexit. Currently every nation – bar the United Kingdom – benefits from the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
“These mealy-mouthed words are insulting to those communities which have been deeply bruised by 40 years of being ignored by the Westminster elite and which voted overwhelmingly in June 2016 to quit the EU.
”In order for Brexit to truly mean Brexit, we must take back control of our territorial waters. I fear this transition period will see many more of our fishermen go out of business, particularly in small fleets under 10 metres which are the most sustainable part of our commercial fishing industry.
“Quite frankly, the European Union does not give them sufficient quota to survive.”
The SNP came under fire for its position when fishermen from Scotland warned Ms Sturgeon not to sell them “down the river”, and instead prepare to get the best deal possible for the industry in the Brexit negotiations.