The legal and political realities confronting the EU on fishing have been finally…
NFFO Reiterates Key Positions as Negotiations Intensify
It is difficult to glean much from the official statements made by the EU and the UK after each round in the intensified UK/EU negotiations on their future relationship. Every statement has to be understood in terms of each side positioning for advantage in the talks. The overall impression, however, is quite substantial progress on many fronts but very wide gaps on a few – including a huge gulf on fisheries. The political ambition on both sides is to reach a deal but the Prime Minister and Chief Negotiator, David Frost, have made it clear that on fisheries the EU will have to travel a very long way from its current position – which is very close to the status quo – if a deal is to be made. The Commission is operating under a mandate from the member states which makes compromise impossible. These two opposing factors make the likelihood on no deal, at present, the most likely outcome. In the event of no-deal on a fisheries framework agreement, the EU would have to make a judgement whether the self-harm it would inflict on itself as well as the UK, by withholding a trade deal, would be the right course of action, notwithstanding the rhetoric generated throughout the negotiations. If it made good on its threats, the UK would trade with the EU on WTO terms from 1st January.
In view of these huge uncertainties, the UK is already making preparations for stand-alone arrangements for 2021 – in which access for EU fleets to fish in UK waters would be one element within an overall annual agreement. Other elements would be setting TACS, and quota shares. In the event of no agreement either in this set of autumn negotiations, there is a possibility that the UK and EU would set their own autonomous quotas for 2021, although this is a departure that no sensible party wants.
It is worth recalling that in the current EU/Norway annual agreements, without an annual fisheries agreement there is no access to fish in each other waters from 1st January.
Leaving the EU, means that the UK’s legal status on fisheries has radically changed. The UK will hold (after the end of the transition period) the rights and responsibilities of a coastal state as defined in the UN law of the sea (UNCLOS) and it is imperative that these sovereign rights are not diluted or given away in any agreement with the EU.
Against this background, the NFFO has reiterated its central objectives for the end of the transition period:
- Quota shares which reflect the resources located in UK waters
- Access arrangements to be negotiated as part of annual fisheries negotiations
- Regulatory autonomy to allow the UK to develop its own distinctive fisheries policy outside the Common Fisheries Policy
- An exclusive 12mile zone for UK fishers
- As frictionless trade as can be obtained without compromising UK sovereignty and rights as an independent coastal state
These are the criteria against which any deal to emerge from the negotiations will be measured and judged.
In the meantime, the talks with Brussels continue, with sessions planned for the weeks commencing 17th August, 7th September, and 28th September. That is approaching the last possible deadline for an agreement to take effect on 1st January 2021 as time is required to go through the Treaty ratification processes