WHY THE WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENT IS A DOWNRIGHT DANGEROUS SURRENDER OF BRITAIN’S FISHING
Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement should be seen as a second surrender of Britain’s fishing communities.
For despite the protestations of Mrs May, Downing Street, supportive Tory MPs and, to their shame, a select clique of industry representatives working in conjunction with said MPs, that’s exactly what it is.
The terms of the agreement on fisheries runs a coach and horses across Ministerial and Scottish Conservative red line promises.
It adds yet another layer of capitulation to further add to what amounts to the worst deal in history.
There are two sections to what has been published.
Firstly, the Withdrawal Agreement – which will become an internationally binding treaty – that creates a Transition period and provision for an unlimited “Backstop” should a Future Relationship not be agreed during the Transition.
Secondly, there is also the Political Declaration, a draft wish-list for the future relationship the EU and UK have agreed to aim for.
The Problem With Transition
The publication and abhorrence over the Backstop and Political Declaration misses the obvious concern that much of what remains of the UK’s ’s fishing industry won’t survive the transition period.
Under the new internationally binding treaty formed of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK will re-adopt all EU law for a transition period of 21 months or up to 4 years post-Brexit, under Articles 4, 7 and 132.
It means we effectively re-join the EU’s disastrous Common Fisheries Policy – but without a say – so it becomes membership-minus.
Re-obeying all EU law for the transition period – but with no say or veto under Article 7 and 130 – means Britain will be a gagged EU satellite. Bound under Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement’s terms of ‘good faith’ to enforce whatever laws Brussels decrees.
This will allow the EU to enforce any detrimental legislation to cripple and cull what’s left of the British industry, and they have every incentive to do so. Under international law (UNCLOS Article 62.2) if a coastal state does not have the capacity to harvest all its resources then it shall give the ‘surplus’ to its neighbour. This is not conjecture, EU documents recognise this situation.
Article 130 says current percentage-based ‘Relative Stability Shares’ shall be maintained, but, the EU can slash quota tonnages for species the UK is dependent on – 100% of nothing equals zero.
The EU can abolish the CFP 12 mile limit that protects inshore fishermen and can use what should be UK resources as negotiating capital in the trade negotiations that will be running concurrently.
The most severe existential threat is the EU can fully enforce its ill-conceived discard ban. This ban deals with the discard symptom not the quota cause; that strict quota limits do not work in highly mixed fisheries such as those around the British Isles.
Under the ban, as of 2019, when a vessel exhausts its lowest quota it must stop fishing. Government agency SeaFish models that 60 per cent of UK resources will go uncaught and a similar proportion of the fleet will become bankrupt.
The Withdrawal Agreement and Its “Backstop”
The Withdrawal Agreement, under Article 184 and Protocol Article 2, obliges the EU and UK to work during this transition to legally agree the draft terms of the future relationship by 2020 – one which must ensure no ‘hard’ border between the UK and Ireland.
This border has been deliberately weaponised as a stick to beat the UK into Brexit in Name Only – despite it representing only 0.2 per cent of UK GDP and only 6.2 per cent of Ulster’s trade. The tip of the tail is being used to wag the dog.
If a Future Relationship is not agreed during the Transition, then the UK is forced into the ‘Backstop’ – which binds the UK into the EU’s Customs Union and keeps Northern Ireland under different rules unless a future relationship is agreed. This gives the EU massive leverage to get the relationship it wants.
Worse, as the Attorney General confirmed, there will be no unilateral right to leave this agreement – the first international treaty with no such clause. If the EU decides to halt talks on a future relationship that are intended to end the Backstop then the Backstop will run forever.
This puts the UK at the mercy of being driven into a future relationship on terrible terms – such as sacrificing British fisheries.
To make it more galling we are paying £39bn for this ‘privilege’ of becoming a vassal state, just to talk about a future relationship where the EU can bludgeon the UK into the terms the EU wants using the threat of the Backstop.
The Implications for Our Fisheries
When talking about fisheries the government hides behind “the UK will be an independent state”.
Indeed, officially we will be, but, we will be an independent state that’s chosen to be shackle its fisheries to the EU for up to 4 years in the transition.
An ‘independent’ state that has signed a Withdrawal Agreement which leads to us then succumbing to a future relationship of the EU’s choosing to avoid going into the Backstop.
A future relationship in which the EU demands under Part X11 Points 73-76 that it should “build on, inter alia, existing reciprocal access and quota shares”– tying us to the same dire and exploitationary arrangement as now, where the EU catches over half the UK’s resources.
Reading the actual words of the Withdrawal Agreement we can see the terms must be based on ‘non-discrimination’ – the founding principle of equal access to a common resource.
The fisheries agreement would be “Within the context of the overall economic partnership”– meaning surrender on fisheries wouldn’t only be levered using the Backstop – but by the EU setting up fishing to be traded as part of the wider economics.
It must also be based on a regulatory ‘level playing field’– which can only be achieved by each party following the same rules – no doubt those of the CFP.
If the UK does not bow and surrender to these demands to continue on the same terms in ‘a’ CFP instead of ‘the’ CFP then Mr Macron helpfully admitted he will shovel the UK into the Backstop.
Markets and Access are Linked
Under the Backstop Protocol Article 6 it says that if the future relationship demands are not met by 2020 then the EU will close its markets to UK fishery and aquaculture products.
The Prime Minister states that the government resisted and hasn’t agreed to market access and fisheries access being linked – but they clearly have.
This means if (and more likely when) the EU shovels the UK into the Backstop, that even if the UK hasn’t already surrendered fisheries, the EU has yet another lever of denying market access to the UK.
This bullying wouldn’t bother the majority of the industry, who would rather sell into hungry international markets and have our resources and regulatory autonomy than surrender to the EU trying to lever markets for access.
However, given Whitehall’s supine performance so far, with every red line crossed, there is little faith that there would be resistance against the EU using the Backstop and future relationship clauses – already agreed to by Whitehall – to ensnare the UK in CFP associate membership.
Sycophantic Tory MPs may be wheeled out to blow bubbles at fishermen assuring them the government will not surrender fishing.
The big question they have to answer is if there was never any intention to surrender fishing why has it been put into such a position of vulnerability? Why was fishing put in the transition in the first place to lead us to this threadbare point?
That is why the Withdrawal Agreement is the worst deal in history and must be resisted with all our might we can muster.
Promises & Pledges Must Be Honoured
The Withdrawal agreement provides the Transition can be extended past 2020 and it includes ALL EU law – Article 127 (6). Voting for this deal means the UK is compelled into adopting a future relationship based on CFP associate membership.
All of this clearly blows Ministerial and Scottish Tory red lines out the water. Red lines of – No CFP past 2020; No agreement that leads to terms on access and waters; and No markets and access being linked.
It annihilates the opportunity to automatically repatriate a £6-8bn industry. To become masters of our own fisheries like Norway, Iceland and Faroe. Allowing us to set decent economic and environmental policy that works for all fishermen to rejuvenate our coastal communities.
By agreeing to support this dead duck deal and Prime Minister – as it would appear twelve of the thirteen Scots Tory MPs will, with the notable and honourable exception of Ross Thomson – these MPs are fastening themselves to a sinking ship. It will cost them their seats and with that the Union they say they desire above all other things to protect.
They must divest themselves of heeding the few big corporate interests running the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation who quickly climbed into Downing Street’s pocket to back this ‘aberration of a deal’.
There will be only the few big companies left by the time (if we ever) make it to being free and un-impinged by the EU. Perhaps this answers why the federation has chosen to give credence to a deal that horrifies 90% of the grassroots members.
Self-interest, party and country are now all interlinked and all best served by voting against the PM’s worst deal in history.
We therefore call on Scots and all other Tory MPs to honour their pledge and vote this dreadful ‘vassal state’ deal down; not just for fishing, but for the nation as a whole.