PM reaffirms CFP rules to be made UK law.

Fears of an industry sell-out were stoked last week when Prime Minister Theresa May set out her Brexit plans for the first time, in a speech in London last week, reports Tim Oliver.

The prime minister made no mention of the UK fishing industry in her speech, in which she set out the government’s Brexit objectives. Her only reference to fishing came when she made a ‘throwaway’ reference to Spanish fishermen, when she spelled out that the EU would damage its own economy if it tried to impose a punishing deal on Britain.

She said: “We are a crucial – profitable – export market for Europe’s automotive industry, as well as sectors including energy, food and drink, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture. These sectors employ millions of people around Europe. And I do not believe that the EU’s leaders will seriously tell German exporters, French farmers, Spanish fishermen, the young unemployed of the Eurozone, and millions of others, that they want to make them poorer, just to punish Britain and make a political point.”

She also reaffirmed the government’s intention to incorporate the whole body of EU law into British law when the European Communities Act is repealed to ‘give the country maximum certainty as we leave the EU’. She said: “The same rules and laws will apply on the day after Brexit as they did before. And it will be for the British parliament to decide on any changes to that law after full scrutiny and proper parliamentary debate.”

Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing said it was essential the UK EEZ was not traded away. “The worrying thing about what the Prime Minister said in a throwaway comment about Spanish fishermen today is that it suggests that she is already contemplating such negotiations,” he said.

Speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the SFF’s ‘sea of opportunity’ hopes for Brexit on the same afternoon (Tuesday, 17 January) that Mrs May made her speech, he said he was due to meet UK ministers, including DEFRA ministers George Eustice and Andrea Leadsom, this week.

He told MSPs: “I will ask emphatically for them to please now provide us with that which they have hitherto refused to provide clearly, which is an absolute undertaking that under no circumstances will they trade away the right to fish in Scotland’s waters as part of Brexit negotiations.

“It is reasonable to expect that that assurance will be given, but it has not been given yet. I have asked for it three times face to face – I will continue to ask for it.”

SNP MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast Stewart Stevenson said the prime minister’s approach was ‘wholly unacceptable’. He commented: “She only mentioned fishing when telling ‘Spanish fishermen that they’d be worse off without a deal between the EU and the UK – which will be sure to raise eyebrows in fishing communities – while providing no detail on what fishing in Scotland will look like after her hard Brexit. This just shows that the Tories see our fishing fleets as expendable, once again.

“Scotland’s fishing interests in Europe must be properly represented and fully protected, and the only way for that to happen is by allowing a Scottish minister to lead for the UK when negotiations get under way.”
SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, said during Prime Minister’s Questions: “The Prime Minister’s passing reference to the interests of Spanish fishermen in her speech yesterday let the cat out of the bag, that access to UK fishing grounds is already on the table as a bargaining chip before the Brexit negotiations have even started. What exactly does the Prime Minister think she can offer Spanish fishermen?”

The prime minister replied: ‘I made the very simple point yesterday that this negotiation is not just about the United Kingdom; there will be others in the European Union who will be looking to ensure that the deal we get is good for the UK and good for the EU. But I have to say to the hon. Lady that if she in any sense thinks that continued membership of the common fisheries policy is what we should be looking for, that is certainly not the case, and it is certainly one of the things people voted against.”

Speaking later, Dr Whiteford said, “The PM’s evasive answer today fuels my concern that fishing will be an expendable pawn in the UK’s Brexit negotiations, just as it was when the UK joined the EU in 1972.”

UKIP fisheries spokesman, MEP Mike Hookem, said re-establishing control of the UK’s 200-mile EEZ must be one of the top priorities of Brexit, yet it did not get a mention in Mrs May’s speech. He feared this was because the Conservatives intend to use the industry as a bargaining chip in the forthcoming negotiations.

He said: “I am calling on Theresa May to clarify her position on fishing and pledge to make it the first industry to become a full UK competence in the post-Brexit age.

“I would also like Mrs May to clarify that the UK will exit the CFP; reinstate and enforce the UK’s EEZ, and make sure that none of the damaging legislation forced on the fishing industry by the EU is carried into UK law under her Great Repeal Bill.”

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