UK-EU Negotiations: Fisheries

28th April 2020 in Brexit, Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

After last week’s round of negotiations, Michel Barnier singled out fisheries as one of the areas where insufficient progress is being made towards the point at the end of June when a decision is to be made (according to the Withdrawal Agreement) on whether to proceed with negotiations. Having ceased to be an EU member State at the end of January, the UK has repeatedly indicated its intention to leave the transitional period and not to ask for an extension.

UK-EU Negotiations: Fisheries
Photo courtesy of Steve Parker

No Surprise

On fisheries, there is no surprise that no progress has been made. The gap between the two sides is vast. The EU’s negotiating mandate is to retain the status quo on access rights and quota shares - and to hold the UK as close as possible to the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy. The UK has indicated that it will act as an independent coastal state and has international law on its side. As the current arrangements under the CFP are asymmetric and to the UK’s massive disadvantage, there is zero prospect of UK agreement to the status quo.

EU Mandate

The EU mandate has been deliberately designed to give the Commission no room for negotiation or compromise. As no agreement is possible without movement from the EU side, a stalemate is inevitable. The EU has one club and it is the big one: withhold a free trade agreement unless the UK caves in on fisheries. It is a nuclear option and would carry a high risk of a no-deal outcome. No deal would:

1. Hurt the UK, but also with it inflict extensive collateral damage to the EU member states, many of whom have no stake in fisheries; some of which are heavily dependent on trade with the UK

2. On fisheries, it would hand the UK what it wants – the freedom to act as an independent coastal state with control over access who fishes in the UK exclusive economic zone, and annual fisheries negotiations.

Positions

The EU has published a draft legal text, reflecting something close to the status quo that it would like to use as the basis for negotiations.

The UK has yet to submit a legal text but has made clear that its objectives are:

⦁ An agreement which leaves intact the UK’s sovereignty to act as an independent coastal state - meaning regulatory autonomy over the fisheries within its exclusive economic zone like any other coastal state

⦁ Cooperation on the management of shared stocks

⦁ Annual fisheries agreements as the principal vehicle for managing shared stocks

⦁ Quota shares that more closely reflect a scientific assessment of the resources located in UK waters

⦁ Access for EU vessels to fish in UK waters (and UK vessels to fish in EU waters) where this is mutually beneficial

⦁ An exclusive 12mile zone to protect the UK’s inshore fisheries

If this list looks familiar, it may be because it is pretty close to the EU’s current fisheries agreement with Norway.

Two more rounds of negotiations are anticipated on, 11th May and 1st June. At that point progress will be assessed across all the UK/EU negotiations and a judgement will be taken on whether to carry on.

Summary

In summary, after two days of talks the major issues remain unresolved. There can probably be high-level agreement on a commitment to the principles of fishing sustainably and using science to inform management decisions, but unless there is movement on the EU side on the other issues, it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached in June, or even later this year. At present, the EU negotiating mandate does not allow for any flexibility, and so it looks like a no-deal is the most likely outcome. On fisheries, the UK will then prepare to enter the cycle of autumn negotiate with Norway, the EU, and the other countries with which it shares stocks, in the absence of a UK-EU framework fisheries agreement. This is not ideal, but it is better than the alternative: agreement to terms that would tie the UK back into a CFP type arrangement.

That would be politically unsellable in the UK.