EU fisheries ministers meet next week as concerns are voiced that European fleets could be given access to UK waters in exchange for City bankers and financiers being allowed favourable post-Brexit access to the bloc’s financial markets.
Major parts of the financial sector will be frozen out of EU markets and unable to service European customers when Britain leaves unless special arrangements can be put in place.
We’ve already seen big-name companies moving out of the City – French oil company Total is moving its treasury department back to Paris and Lloyds of London is relocating to Brussels.
One of the key figures in the next round of Brexit talks will be Phil Hogan, the Irish commissioner, who has admitted there would be “trade-offs”.
The EU’s trade commissioner told the Irish Independent: “There certainly will be trade-offs, particularly at the end of the negotiations. The EU will be seeking concessions on fishery access and the UK will very probably be seeking concessions on financial services.”
He added: “The SNP will hold the Tories to account for the promises they made – but it is time they set out honestly to the fishing industry and all other industries how they intend to secure a close economic partnership with the EU without putting fishing on the table.
“The Tories sold out our fishermen in the first place, and they can’t be trusted not to do so again.”
WHAT’S THE EU SAYING?
THEY’RE not hiding anything – in fact a slide presentation compiled by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s team warned that EU objectives included “continued reciprocal access” to waters and “stable quota shares”.
Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic, whose country is taking over presidency of the European Council, has threatened to block the City’s access to European markets if Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to exempt the UK from European laws. And in the event of no deal on fishing rights, he warned of potential skirmishes at sea similar to those during the 1970s cod wars.
He said: “I wouldn’t go into the vocabulary of weapons but what I have learned in international and European negotiations [is] that all arguments and considerations are treated as political.”
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the British Government would have to agree to commitments on state aid, environmental and labour standards to allow trade that was free of tariffs and quotas.
“Great Britain is our friend, the Brits are our friends, it is a friendship that has been growing for a long time but we have to break new ground with each other, and here it applies as well: it is the decision of Great Britain how close or distant of the biggest single market in the world they want to be,” said von der Leyen.
“The closer they are, meaning a level playing field, the more they are ready to respect the European rules, the easier accession to the European single market will be.
“The further away, the less there is of a level playing field, the more difficult their access to the European single market will be. It is a decision Great Britain has to make and in the negotiations we will have to sound out the scope that we want to use to then determine the negotiations accordingly.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS FISHING TO US?
THERE can be no doubting its significance, given that in 2018 official figures showed we had 2089 active Scottish-registered fishing vessels. Between them they landed 446,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish with a value of GBP574 million.
In 2018, Scottish vessels landed 62% (tonnage) and 74% (value) of their landings into Scotland, 3% and 5% into the rest of the UK, with the remainder being landed abroad (36% and 21%).
The top three destinations abroad were Norway, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark.
Elspeth Macdonald, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF),
told The National a tariff-free agreement would also be in the EU’s interests: “The default position for fisheries under international law is for nation states to have full control of
the waters in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Therefore, when the UK leaves the Common Fisheries Policy the UK and Scottish governments will have the power to determine who gets to catch what, where and when around our shores.
“Any access to EU vessels will be negotiated annually in international fisheries talks, which is already established practice for the EU with other fishing countries. So it would be in the EU’s interests to sustain tariff-free access to UK seafood exports if it still wants access for its vessels to UK waters.”
WAIT and see. The ministers meet on Monday and Tuesday, but it is one of the most complex issues surrounding Brexit, given the importance of access to our waters for France and other big players in the EU.
However, industry insiders say much of the quota is already owned by EU companies – especially in England – and the least they are likely to settle for is the status quo. And there will still be an implementation period after the UK “nominally” leaves on January 31, during which everything agreed in the normal EU fishing talks last month stays in place until the end of the year.
Confused? Most of us mere mortals are.