Brexit: Fishing row could be ‘getting ugly’ says Andy Mayer

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The UK and France remain at loggerheads over access to British fishing waters. Paris officials have hit out at the UK for not granting enough licences to its vessels. Fishing along with arrangements in Northern Ireland were two of the most contentious issues in the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement, which was finally sealed in December 2020.

The EU had been steadfast in enforcing rules on goods entering Northern Ireland for the past 10 months – before the bloc finally caved in and put forward proposals to slash checks on 80 percent of products.

The unexpected move by the EU had raised the prospect of other areas of the deal being changed, particularly fishing, after UK fleets condemned the agreement.

However, Barrie Deas CEO of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, has poured cold water on the idea of a change in position from the EU.

He told Express.co.uk: “I don’t think the European Union will move to open up the fisheries part of the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement.

“They would have too much to lose.”

The UK left the EU Common Fisheries Policy and took back greater control of its fishing waters.

EU quotas in UK waters will be reduced by 25 percent over the next five years.

Fishing chiefs argue this did not go far enough and the UK is now limited to annual negotiations on quotas – rather than the ability to overhaul the wider deal.

The outcome for British fishermen was further compounded after a report by Gary Taylor, a former Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) fisheries negotiator, estimated the industry could lose £64million each year by 2026.

Defra has since knocked back this figure and said UK fishing fleets are forecast to make a gain of £27million.

Earlier this week, France’s maritime minister, Annick Girardin, said Britain had until November 1 to issue more fishing licences to enable French fleets to access the UK’s 6-12 mile fishing zone.

Paris has threatened to take action after it emerged the UK approved just 15 permits for small French fishing boats out of 47 applications.

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In Jersey, authorities sanctioned 66 full licences and 31 temporary permits, but refused 73 applications.

A UK Government spokesman said: “We continue to work with the European Commission and French authorities and remain open to considering any further evidence that supports the remaining licence applications.”

Mr Deas reiterated the EU vessels needed to show historical evidence of fishing in UK waters and downplayed the retaliatory threats from Paris.

He previously said: “As far as I can see the UK authorities are implementing the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement in the way it was intended. Evidence is required that each vessel fishing inside the UK 6-12m limit.”

Mr Deas added: “Any retaliatory actions by the EU would have to be agreed by all member states and there is no sign that many want to go out on a limb with France.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to Northern Ireland and called for Brexit issues to be resolved quickly.

He said the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was created to prevent a hard border and ties Belfast to the EU’s regulatory framework, was having a detrimental impact on people’s lives.

Mr Johnson said: “I think there is an issue with the protocol and we need to thrash that out.

“We can’t go on forever with this question because it is affecting real people and real lives and real businesses right now because of the way in which the protocol is being interpreted.”

He added: “I don’t think that it is coherent with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement because the way it is being used is creating these unnecessary checks down the Irish Sea.

“So we need to flush it out pretty fast and we need to change the causes of the problem and not the symptoms and I think we need to move pretty fast.”
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