Fishing and markets will be separate.

According to Michael Gove, fishing will have a shorter transition period during the Brexit process than the overall agreed period, reports Tim Oliver.

Speaking to MPs just before Christmas, the DEFRA Secretary of State said there would be ‘a specific transition period for fishing of nine or 10 months’.

He also said that fisheries negotiations on access and quotas would be kept separate from negotiations on market access. This is the UK industry position, but the EU Fisheries Alliance is insisting they must be linked.

The UK government is trying to negotiate a two-year transition period after the formal Brexit withdrawal date of 29 March, 2019, during which all EU regulations will continue to apply and give stability to businesses.

Giving evidence to the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee just before Christmas, Michael Gove said the UK government would be negotiating up to March 2018 on the shape and nature of the transition arrangement after Britain becomes an independent coastal state in international law after March 2019.

He was asked if the fishing industry would be outside of the transition deal, and if there was a risk the EU could impose tariffs and delays on UK fish and seafood exports.

“You can have transition and implementation periods of varying lengths,” he told the committee. “It’s not that fishing is outside the transition period, but that there is a specific transition period for fishing of nine or 10 months.”

He referred to a report in The Times the previous day, that officials in Brussels are saying privately that the UK will not have to observe EU quotas as part of the transition deal (Fishing News, 4 January, ‘Brussels set to compromise on fisheries’). He told the committee: “It’s interesting to see that it is reported that EU Commission negotiators accept that there needs to be a different regime for fishing as distinct from other areas during that transition period. The aim is to secure a negotiated agreement whereby fishing is governed by a different set of provisions and a different timescale from other parts of the transition period.”

He said there were three aspects of the negotiations – the transition agreement, the withdrawal agreement, and the future relationship based on trade. Fishing would be part of the transition agreement.

“We will, all being well, by March have secured a transition agreement between Britain and the EU.

“We become an independent coastal state in law, we agree to abide by the decisions that have been made in the December Council of next year (2018) and thereafter…We will be in a position similar to Norway.”

The EFRA committee pressed the minister on whether, after March 2019, as part of the agreement no tariffs would be imposed on the seafood industry.

Mr Gove said: “We can’t guarantee anything – it’s a negotiation. But the aim of the transition arrangement is to ensure there are no trade barriers during the two-year transition period.”

MPs again pressed the minister to confirm that access and markets would be separate issues. SE Cornwall MP Sherryl Murray said: “Let’s be clear – access to resources and access to a market for the processing industry are two separate things. They were very confused and used as a bargaining chip in 1971/1972. This has caused a lot of confusion and left a lot of fishermen feeling very badly let down.

“Can you say that you will not in any way confuse those two things, and access to resources will not be used as a way of buying access to markets in the future?”

Honiton and Tiverton MP Neil Parish added: “And we’ll get the fish back we lost in 1972. Are you certain of that – not particular species, but quantity?”

Michael Gove replied: “Yes and Yes.”

Welcoming the minister’s comments, SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “There is now a very clear consensus on the SFF position of a nine-month bridge from March to December 2019 out of the CFP, which both Michael Gove and George Eustice outlined to the EFRA Committee today.

“Similarly, our insistence that trade and access to UK waters must not be linked during the Brexit negotiations is well understood. We welcome both stances, and look forward to their bearing fruit in the weeks and months to come.”

The ministers’ evidence can be seen here.

Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters that the EU wants the post-Brexit transition period to end on December 31, 2020 – three months less than the UK is aiming for. He said that during the transition period the UK would have to fulfil all obligations, while losing all voting rights in the EU.

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