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UK’s withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention greeted by indifference in Brussels and anger in Ireland

| July 3, 2017 | 1 Comment

The UK’s Environment Secretary and leading Brexiteer Michael Gove announced on 2 July that the UK would take “an historic step” towards delivering a fairer deal for the UK fishing industry this week, by triggering the withdrawal from an arrangement that allowed foreign countries access to UK waters, writes Catherine Feore.

The London Fisheries Convention, signed in 1964 before the UK joined the European Union, allows vessels from five European countries to fish within six and 12 nautical miles of the UK’s coastline. It sits alongside the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which allows all European vessels access between 12 and 200 nautical miles of the UK and sets quotas for how much fish each nation can catch.

The EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier quickly brushed away this decision as irrelevant to negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy, which superseded the 1964 agreement.

Gove states that he will notify the other member states “in a similar way to the Article 50 letter which began a two-year withdrawal from the EU”. Except, instead of notifying the European Council, he will have to notify… the UK government. We look forward to the pictures of Gove delivering the letter to number 10.

Gove said: “This is an historic first step towards building a new domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union – one which leads to a more competitive, profitable and sustainable industry for the whole of the UK.”

However, the same statement includes a quote from Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, who said: “An estimated 10,000 tonnes of fish, including mackerel and herring, was caught by fishing vessels from the London Fisheries Convention countries France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands in 2015 within 12 nautical miles of the British coast – worth an estimated £17 million.”

Fisheries – while important to northern Scotland – make a small contribution to the UK’s economy. But if we look at Scotland alone it exports 80% of its fish and imports 80% of the fish it consumes. Around 8% of fishing crews are EU-27 nationals, this figure is higher for fish processing. Macduff Shellfish, in a submission to the Scottish parliament, said that 79% of its work force was from the EU-27.

Ireland

The decision drew an immediate response and press statement from Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who said: “Today’s announcement by the UK Government is unwelcome and unhelpful. It is a part of Brexit and will be considered by the EU-27 and the Barnier team when the negotiations commence. The announcement will have no immediate effect as the withdrawal process from the Convention will take two years and will form part of the Brexit negotiations.”

Creed reminded the UK that some of these rights were reciprocal, allowing not only the Irish fishing fleet access to parts of the UK 6-12 mile zone, but also the UK fleet to parts of the Irish zone. These access rights were incorporated into the EU Common Fisheries Policy when Ireland and the UK joined the EU.

The UK, though an important economy and an important contributor to EU security, does not hold many a strong hand in negotiations with the EU-27. One of the UK’s most influential allies concerning the EU-27 will be Ireland, which has extremely close economic, cultural and historic ties. To lose the good will of one of your closest partners appears to be a further reckless act from a government that is out of its depth.

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Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, EU, European Commission, featured, Featured Article, Ireland, Politics, UK

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  1. Oliver Meehan says:

    Two years ago I retired from teaching, having survived Mr. Gove’s attempts to wreck the profession. In the 1970s I served with the Irish Naval Service, mainly engaged in fishery protection. Not Gove again. Another fine mess.

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