But shadow of Great Repeal Bill and London Convention.

Above: Theresa May signed the historic Article 50 letter in the cabinet room in Downing Street.

Prime Minister Theresa May set in train a new era for the British fishing industry last week, when she officially notified the European Union of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, reports Tim Oliver.

The historic move means the UK will be free of the hated Common Fisheries Policy in two years’ time, marking the end of a 40-year period of frustration and decline for the British fishing industry.

But, while the watershed development gives hope for a new dawn for the industry, there are clouds on the horizon.

The following day, the government published a white paper on the so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’ that will incorporate the whole of EU law (acquis) into UK law – including the CFP and all its regulations.

The industry fears this will mean it could take years before it is finally free of the CFP and a new UK management regime is put in place, and there were warnings against another ‘betrayal’ of the industry.
Another anxiety was the government’s failure to announce that Britain will withdraw from the London Convention that gives access to EU vessels inside areas of the UK’s six to 12-mile limit (see below).

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation welcomed the official start of Brexit but warned again that there must be no sell out (see right). Fishing for Leave also gave an enthusiastic welcome to the move (see below) but expressed concern at the dangers of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

“We will be free to manage our own waters with no historical access or allocations to honour, unless the government monumentally betrays Brexit and the industry by adopting, and continuing, the terms of the CFP with the ‘Great Repeal Bill’,” said FFL.

In her letter of withdrawal, delivered by hand to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, the prime minister set out the government’s approach to negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU. The letter spoke of ‘the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave’.

She said the government would ‘consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales’. The government expects the outcome will be ‘a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration’. A few days earlier, the Scottish parliament voted by 69 to 59 for the power to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.

She said the UK would also propose ‘a bold and ambitious’ free trade agreement between the EU and UK.

Full negotiations will not start for a couple of months, and will have to completed in about 18 months to allow for the proposed deal to be put to the remaining 27 member states, and ratified by the end of the two-year withdrawal period.

Uncertainty over historic access

A continuing source of great uncertainty in the Brexit process is the London Convention that gives historic access to other EU vessels in the UK six to 12-mile limit.

There has been industry pressure for the UK to withdraw from it at the same time as Brexit, to avoid overlap with the date of leaving the EU, as withdrawal takes two years, as will Brexit.

But although the government says repeatedly that it is looking at the situation, nothing concrete emerges.

Former DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson asked the prime minister last week in parliament if she intended to give notice of withdrawal soon. She replied: “We are looking very carefully at the London Fisheries Convention and at what action needs to be taken. He is right that this would require two years, but we, of course, expect to conclude the deal with the European Union within two years and there will then, as I have indicated, be an implementation period beyond that particular time. We hope to be able to say something about the London Fisheries Convention soon.”

Meanwhile, Fishing for Leave said it had ‘reason to cheer’ last week at a leak it had seen from within government that suggested the government would secure a ‘clean’ Brexit and serve the two-year notice required to withdraw from the London Convention at the same time as it gave notice to trigger Article 50.

But while FFL said it hoped the leak was correct, it also issued a warning on the words used by the government that it intended to scrap the convention ‘to secure a strong position… if talks with the EU break down’.

“We hope that the strong hand is not being secured as a strategy to reinforce fishing as a lever to negotiate and barter with, and the government should be pressured extensively and unremittingly to ensure this doesn’t happen,” said FFL.

“Especially given that the same leak quotes that, despite the superficial public rhetoric, behind the scenes ‘the government hopes that successful Brexit talks would include the right of some European countries to have access’.

Complete control crucial says SFF

The SFF said complete control of fisheries in UK waters must be restored to the UK during the Brexit negotiations.

Chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the case for repatriating powers entirely to the UK government and the devolved administrations was overwhelming, and urged ministers not to sell the industry out.

“The entire UK industry has united behind this principle, and legally, morally, economically, there are no grounds for any other outcome. Anything short of the restoration of complete control would be a colossal betrayal,” he said.

“Under international law, we should rightfully resume control over our waters, the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). That presents a huge sea of opportunity for our fishermen, given that under the disastrous CFP we are forced to give away almost 60% of a very high quality natural resource which is abundant in our waters.”

Mr Armstrong compared this practice to France, Spain, Italy and Portugal being compelled to hand over more than half of its grape harvest to other countries for wine-making. “Imagine the outcry! It would never happen, yet that is what the fishing industry in this country has been made to endure under the CFP,” he said.

“Just as these countries would not countenance trading away their natural resources in any negotiation, we should be steadfast in protecting what is rightfully ours.

“We are not being unreasonable in this – once the principle of control has been agreed, we will, as a coastal state, be open to negotiations over mutually-beneficial access on an annual basis like Norway and Iceland.”

Bertie Armstrong added that UK and Scottish government assurances that the interests of the industry would not be sacrificed as they were upon the UK’s accession to the Common Market in 1973, had been welcome.

“We are, of course grateful, for the positive approach of the two governments, but there is a long way to go and ministers can be sure that fishermen right around our 19,000-mile coastline will be watching and expecting them to live up to their promises.”

FFL: ‘Golden opportunity’

FFL said it was ‘rapturous’ at the triggering of Article 50. It was the start of ‘an irrevocable process’ that would lead to the UK being free of the EU and the entire CFP in two years’ time.

“The golden opportunity of a fresh start to revitalise our industry and communities and way of life is within touching distance,” said FFL in a statement.

“Unless the government betrays the industry by continuing the CFP by adopting it into UK law with the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, we will have a clean slate to implement our own UK policy. We have a golden opportunity to implement economically and environmentally fit-for-purpose UK fisheries management as we have detailed in our policy document.

“We hope that FFL helped in the result, with the flotilla up the Thames helping to buy our industry prominence and political capital.”

FFL said many of its supporters had made ‘Herculean efforts and fought an unremitting campaign over decades to see this day’. Members of FAL such as Tom Hay, John Ashworth, Roddy McColl, John Thomson, Leslie Girvan, Magnie Stewart, Sandy Patience and others had ‘fought nobly to free our country’, in the face of derision from those who should have supported UK withdrawal.

“Much of the knowledge they identified through months of studious research has now come to the fore and proved that what they said all along was right.

“The triggering of Article 50 represents the culmination of a dogged fight and resistance by a select number and represents the start of our country becoming a sovereign, independent, self-governing nation where our people are able to decide their own future and destiny. Nowhere is this opening of sovereignty going to have greater effect than in our industry.

“Today really does represent the start of what is hopefully the industry’s ‘Great Escape’.”

CFP to be rolled over into UK law

The day after triggering Article 50, the government published a white paper setting out its approach to the Great Repeal Bill that will incorporate all EU law into UK law.

It will come into force immediately after the European Communities Act is repealed following the two-year Brexit process.

It makes no mention of specific industries and emphasises that its purpose is to provide stability and continuity when we leave the EU. The government will then be able to go through the legislation and keep or repeal regulations as it thinks appropriate.

But the industry fears that it will simply mean the CFP is rolled over into UK law and many more years of being subject to the existing rules and status quo.

The prime minister says this approach ‘will provide maximum certainty as we leave the EU. The same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before. It will then be for democratically elected representatives in the UK to decide on any changes to that law, after full scrutiny and proper debate’.

The Bill will be introduced at the start of the next parliamentary session.

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