EU to take tough stance on fishing at Brexit summit
The European Union will use Sunday’s Brexit summit to push for its fishing industry to maintain their current levels of access to UK waters, a leaked document reveals.
A draft statement on the summit’s conclusions, which has been seen by Yahoo Finance UK, says the future of fishing rights should be based on current rules.
That will fuel fears that the EU is seeking to use trade talks to keep the UK locked into its common fisheries policy (CFP), opposition to which motivated many in the British fishing industry to back Brexit.
The leak could also make it harder for Theresa May to convince Conservative MPs, particularly those in Scotland, that her Brexit deal will work for their constituencies ahead of a Commons vote.
“The European Council will demonstrate particular vigilance on the necessity to maintain ambitious level playing field conditions and to protect fishing enterprises and coastal communities,” the leaked European Council document states.
And, crucially, it adds: “As recalled in the Withdrawal Agreement, a fisheries agreement is a matter of priority and should build on existing reciprocal access and quota shares.”
That goes further than the draft political declaration, which says only that the UK and EU “should establish a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares.”
In a statement to the Commons on Thursday, Theresa May told MPs that the UK will “become an independent coastal state, with control over our waters so that our fishermen get a fairer share of the fish in our waters.”
She added that she had “firmly rejected” a link between fishing access and the wider trade deal with the EU and said the UK “will negotiate access and quotas on an annual basis” like Norway.
However, the political declaration published on Wednesday does state that an agreement on the future of fishing will be “within the context of the overall economic partnership.”
The Fishing for Leave campaign group warned on Friday that the deal set to be signed-off on Sunday will lock the UK into “associate membership” of the common fisheries policy.
“What the future relationship agreement does is leaves the door wide open to the UK being levered (using market access and fisheries access being linked) into agreeing associate membership of the CFP in a quiet room out of the public spotlight in the future,” they said in a statement.
In a sign of the leverage the EU will use to maintain access to UK waters, the leaked European Council document adds that any agreement on fishing “should be negotiated before the end of the transition period” and warns the offer of an extended transition could be withdrawn without one.
An extended transition is likely to be necessary to conclude the trade deal needed to avoid the implementation of the Irish border backstop.
France was leading a group of countries which wanted the Brexit deal to go further on fishing rights in UK waters.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier persuaded them to put their concerns on ice to get the deal over the line and use the forthcoming trade talks to secure access
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