‘No commitment to full sovereignty over EEZ’ says FFL.

Fishing for Leave (FFL) has challenged the Conservatives to clarify what it says is wording in its fisheries manifesto that suggests the party is only committed to taking back full control of UK waters out to 12 miles rather than the full 200-mile/median line EEZ, reports Tim Oliver.

The campaign group says the wording is in contrast to statements made by fisheries minister George Eustice, that the UK will take full control of its 200-mile EEZ, and has written to the minister asking for clarification.

But FFL has welcomed a commitment in the Conservative manifesto to withdraw from the 1964 London Convention that will end historic rights for foreign vessels to fish in the UK six to 12-mile zone (see below).

The row has broken out over the manifesto statement that when Britain leaves the EU and CFP ‘we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control’.

FFL claims the words ‘where we have historically exercised sovereign control’ suggest the government is only ready to take back ‘a tiny slice’ of the UK’s EEZ – the 12-mile coastal strip – rather than the entire EEZ. This is because the UK has never been able to exercise sovereign control over its EEZ in the waters between 12 and 200 miles from our shores. It could only exercise sovereign control out to 12 miles before we joined the EU.

“Britain was already an EU member and bound by the CFP when international fishing limits were extended to 200 miles,” said FFL. “The UK recognised her sovereignty over the EEZ out to 200 miles with the Fishery Limits Act of 1976, but these waters were automatically subverted to the EU which exercised sovereign control instead of the UK – so we have never ‘historically exercised sovereign control’ between 12 and 200 miles.”

“This wording is of dire concern and rings alarm bells for a total backslide and fudged deal,” said an FFL spokesman.

“Why was the natural wording of ‘all UK waters’ or perhaps ‘all our EEZ’ not used?

“The Conservatives had better mean ALL UK waters within our EEZ out to 200 miles, otherwise Brexit, the nation and the opportunity to reclaim all waters for all our fishermen and for all communities has been betrayed.”

But fisheries minister George Eustice said FFL’s claims were ‘shadow boxing’ and ‘wrong’.

“When we leave the EU we automatically regain control of the management of our EEZ under international law,” said the minister.

“This means we will have full control over access arrangements and fisheries management out to 200 nautical miles or the median line.

“The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) becomes the new legal base line’ and we will become an independent coastal state.”

FFL said it had written to the minister ‘to seek clarity as to why the deliberately ambiguous words were used and as to what is now government policy – his words or the manifesto’.

“Although we welcome the minister’s affirmation that the UK will reclaim control over our EEZ, points of concern remain unanswered,” said the FFL spokesman.

FFL said comments by the prime minister in her Lancaster House speech earlier this year and in the Brexit white paper both ‘added fuel to the fire’.

Statements were made referring to ‘Spanish fishermen looking for a good deal’ and ‘Given the heavy reliance on UK waters by the EU and the importance of EU waters to the UK, it is in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU’s fishing communities’.

“Given that only 16% of UK catches are in EU waters but 54% of the EU’s catches are in ours, it’s clear who has ‘heavy reliance’ and who a deal is ‘important’ and ‘beneficial’ to,” said the FFL spokesman.

A Conservative Party spokesman rejected FFL’s analysis’ and said the Party was committed to withdrawing from the CFP and the London Fisheries Convention and putting in place a new fisheries regime. He said: “Under international law, access to our waters, and any reciprocal arrangements, will be a matter for negotiation with other coastal states.”

Calling for clarity, FFL said, “All these are deliberate words in speeches, papers and manifestos that are some of the most important in British history – are these clerical errors and clumsy writing or deliberate ‘get-out’ clauses?”

He called on the prime minister to give ‘unequivocal clarity and commitment’ to affirm that the waters the UK has ‘historically exercised sovereign control’ over are the entire UK EEZ waters, and that fisheries minister George Eustice’s statement has her full support.

FFL is also calling for ‘an absolute undertaking that under no circumstances will they trade away the right to fish in Britain’s waters as capital in the Brexit negotiations’.
“Until then, the deliberately ambiguous wording in the manifesto could render any of the commitments about reclaiming British waters worthless,” said FFL.

‘Divide and Rule’

FFL that when the ambiguous four words ‘historically exercised sovereign control’ were taken in conjunction with fisheries minister George Eustice’s utterances at Brexit and other fisheries meetings that the government ‘would perhaps look to do something inside 12 miles for smaller boats and something different outside 12 miles’, the picture was clear.

“There will then be a partition of the UK EEZ,” he said. “Inside 12 miles they will implement a policy for a cottage industry which they hope will bribe and appease smaller vessels and assuage Brexit demands by having pretty boats in pretty harbours.

“Outside 12 miles, where the UK has never ‘historically exercised sovereign control’, having been kept prisoner within the CFP, we will run a mirror CFP as they propose to adopt in the Great ‘Repeal’ Bill. This will throw the majority of the UK fleet to the wolves.

“The UK, with a separate regime inside 12 miles for smaller vessels, will shut down the waters of the Irish Sea, Shetland, west of Scotland, the Scilly Isles and St Kilda to the UK fleet.

“Smaller vessels will be pinned inside 12 miles with only the fish that make it inshore and most British fishermen will be forced inside 12 miles, increasing pressure.”

The FFL spokesman said there was an appealing logic of such an approach to the government. It would buy off smaller boats, appease the EU, larger interests, and would continue the consolidation of Britain’s fleet into fewer boats and fewer hands.

“Despite Brexit, we will have fulfilled the EU’s goals of clearing our sea and leaving only a cottage industry around our shores. It is the typical limp British establishment response to a contentious issue – create a partition, split the problem to fight amongst themselves with a fudge for everyone that keeps no one happy.”

Pledge on exclusive UK 12-mile limit

The government has pledged to end historic rights for foreign vessels to fish in the UK six-12 mile limit if the Conservatives win the general election on 8 June.

In its manifesto the Conservatives say that ‘to provide complete legal certainty to our neighbours and clarity during our negotiations with the European Union, we will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention’ (which enshrines historic rights in the six-12 zone).

FFL said it was ‘delighted’ at the commitment to scrap the Convention and commended the minister, government and Conservative Party for the decision.

But FFL said notice to withdraw from the Convention should have been served at the same time as Article 50 to withdraw from the EU was triggered, to avoid an overlap and create legal complications on access to the UK EEZ.

“There is no commitment as to when we will withdraw,” said FFL. “Given the urgency of this, we hope the minister can clarify what has caused the delay and when will the government act? It is one thing to commit and another to only act when it is too late.”

Conservative fisheries manifesto

‘Decades of profound economic change have left their mark on coastal communities around Britain. We will continue to work to ensure these communities enjoy the vitality and opportunity they deserve.

‘In England, we will extend our successful Coastal Communities Fund to 2022, helping our seaside towns thrive.

‘When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.

‘A new Conservative government will work with the fishing industry and with our world-class marine scientists, as well as the devolved administrations, to introduce a new regime for commercial fishing that will preserve and increase fish stocks and help to ensure prosperity for a new generation of fishermen.

‘To provide complete legal certainty to our neighbours and clarity during our negotiations with the European Union, we will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention. We will continue our work to conserve the marine environment off the coast of the United Kingdom.’

The manifesto also said: ‘We will protect the interests of Scottish farmers and fishermen as we design our new UK farming and fisheries policy.’

It affirmed the Conservative’s intention to incorporate all EU law into UK through the Great Repeal Bill. ‘Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, Parliament will be able to pass legislation to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law it chooses, as will the devolved legislatures, where they have the power to do so.’

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