Commission Publishes its Negotiation Positions on Fisheries: NFFO Executive Reaffirms its Brexit Positions

23rd January 2018 in Brexit, Europe / Common Fisheries Policy, Executive

The European Commission has recently presented its positions on fisheries to the EU 27 member states, in preparation for the opening of Round 2 Brexit negotiations in Brussels.

Commission Publishes its Negotiation Positions on Fisheries: NFFO Executive Reaffirms its Brexit Positions

The Commission statement is here.

As an opening position, in advance of the negotiations that will take place over the next 10 months, there are few surprises. Before Christmas, the Commission signalled that it would not be fighting to retain formal jurisdiction over UK waters. That is a realistic recognition of the UK’s new legal status, under the UN Law of the Sea, after the UK concludes the process of leaving the EU. However, in this new position statement, the Commission signals that it will insist on the status quo for quota shares and access arrangements, at least during any transition or implementation period; and will also press for the UK to be tied umbilically to the CFP for the foreseeable future. For the most part, the UK would become a rule-taker, rather than a participant in the rule-making process and most certainly the UK’s status would certainly not reflect the proportion of fisheries resources in its waters. The Commission intends to use trade as the lever to secure these objectives.

The principles of equal access and relative stability have worked very well for the EU fleets - and to the systematic disadvantage of the UK for over forty years - by comparison with the deal that would have been available to us as an independent coastal state. It is no surprise that the EU will try to cling on to this state of affairs for as long as possible. This new document provides an indication of how they will try to achieve this.

Direct Conflict

The Commission’s position brings the EU into direct conflict with the aspirations of the UK fishing industry, which see the UK’s new legal status after March 2019, as a stepping stone to the normal advantages that accompany the status of an independent coastal state: quota shares that broadly reflect the resources in its EEZ; access arrangements for non-UK vessels only when there is a balancing benefit for the UK; and the ability to determine the shape of the management system to which the UK fleet is subject.

The Commission’s plan is to block any shift in this direction by insisting that access to the EU market, on anything other than WTO rules, would not be available, unless the UK sacrifices its fishing industry, which would continue to be subject to the whole body of EU rules past, present and future.

Clearly, the Commission’s plan for the future relationship between the EU and UK on fisheries is to try to keep the UK tied into an asymmetric, essentially exploitative relationship, with the EU as the dominant party, dictating the all the terms. This approach would not be acceptable in West Africa. Why would it be acceptable here? The UK would have to be bent self-harm to accept such a deal. After Brexit, the EU will control only around 20% of the sea area in the North Sea and in Western Waters about 50%. How could it be fair, realistic, or rational to expect the UK to accept such terms?

So, there are no surprises in the Commission’s stance. It is an opening negotiating position and it is to be expected that opening statement in negotiations present unachievable, maximalist, positions. We have every reason to expect that our ministers will stoutly resist. It would not just be the fishing industry that would punish the government electorally for leading it to expect a better future, only to have the promise snatched away and replaced with bitter frustration. Anything that looks like tying the UK into the present arrangements in the form of a CFP-lite, would be denounced by the fishing industry and its allies as an unacceptable betrayal - because it would be an unacceptable betrayal.

There is an expectation across the fishing industry that we will see a significant step forward on day one as we leave the EU, with a clear step-wise plan to take us to enjoy the full fruits of our status as an independent coastal state.

Against this background, the NFFO Executive Committee, which met recently in York, has reaffirmed its objectives as the UK leaves the EU.

NFFO Chief Executive, Barrie Deas, said:

“As we enter this next crucial phase in the withdrawal negotiations, there is much speculation on what the implementation/transition phase will mean and, as is usual with these kind of talks, postures are being struck in advance.

Our Executive Committee thought it important to restate our Brexit objectives and to make clear that it is against these that any deal will be judged by the UK fishing industry.

Our objectives are:

1 That the UK should, from the point of departure from the EU, have the status of an independent coastal state, with jurisdiction over the fisheries within its Exclusive Economic Zone; along with an independent seat at the table when decisions on fisheries on shared stocks are made.

2 That the UK’s quotas of shared stocks should broadly reflect the resources that are located within UK waters

3 That a 12mile exclusive limit should apply to safeguard to provide adequate protection for our coastal fisheries

4 That access for non-UK vessels to fish within the UK EEZ should be subject to negotiation and should bring balancing benefits to the UK

5 That there should be scope and flexibility for the UK to shape and tailor its domestic fisheries management arrangements to fit with its own fleets

6 That the UK should seek as unimpeded access to EU markets as possible

“These are our objectives and it is against these that progress will be measured and judged as we enter this next phase in the negotiations. We think that it is positive that the Commission’s negotiating position recognises that bespoke arrangements will be needed to reflect the UK’s new legal status after March 2019; and that the EU will no longer have jurisdiction over fisheries in UK waters. This is a welcome sign that there is an awareness that the world is changing and the UK will be an independent coastal state under international law from the point of departure.”

“What would not be acceptable would be, despite that altered legal status, for the UK to succumb to pressure from the EU to tie us into medium or long-term arrangements in which nothing material changes.”