Will Manifestos Deliver On the Acid Test of Brexit?

Fishing has always been a clear-cut issue that easily encapsulates this country’s membership of the EU. It is therefore an acid test of whether Brexit has been meaningfully delivered.

How a political party answers certain questions is a clear indication of its underlying intentions.

The Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist Parties’ position is already clear. They will continue to give away full control (competency) of the living marine resources in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to the detriment of our coastal communities and the UK in general.

Whether fishing will even feature in Labour’s ‘your choice is between remain and remain’ election manifesto is yet to be seen.

The position of the Conservatives under Boris’s deal with the EU means they are approaching thin ice.

Under Boris’s deal Britain’s fisheries are set to remain open to EU boats as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will continue to operate during the extendable Transition period– that means up until 2023.

There is no need for having fishing – and indeed the country – subjugated by re-obeying all EU law for the Transition. The Conservatives could campaign on a clean break now the need for a deal to appease a remain parliament that is dissolved is gone. It perplexes us as to why they are not?

The 2017 manifesto won a record number of votes – despite Mrs May’s poor performance. The Brexit party stormed the European Elections on a No Deal stance. Poll after poll shows strong support for Britain to walk away with a clean exit. What’s to lose?

The current deal on re-obeying the CFP is something that will hurt the Conservatives in coastal constituencies – particularly those in the South West, East Coast and most damaging, Scotland.

A more robust position on fisheries would improve their chances in seats in these areas.

Should Boris Johnson and the Conservatives win a majority and ratify the deal and the Transition, then this leads to negotiations on the Future Relationship.

One which the UK has agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement will be based on the Political Declaration.

The EU have made very clear their demand for access to UK fishing waters along similar lines as present. That’s despite the fact that the EU have no legal right to make such a demand – this is pure bully-boy tactics.

The response to the following question is the litmus test.

Question: The European Union have made it very clear that a trade deal between the UK and EU will have to include access to UK fishing waters for EU vessels under similar arrangements to the CFP. What is your, and your party’s position on this?

They have a problem unless they answer in a manner similar to that below

‘At the end of the Transition, control of our fishing waters within our Exclusive Economic Zone is returned to Westminster, for the UK to operate under the guidelines of international law for the benefit of the UK. I/We will not use fisheries access as a barter for a trade deal. Nor allow a roll over of current CFP access and quota shares. The UK must be able to exercise exclusive sovereignty free of obedience to any facet of the CFP’

They could elaborate further if they wished:

‘We will co-operate with our neighbours and, like most coastal states, negotiate only reciprocal arrangements where the UK receives an an equal value swap of fishing opportunities.’

If, however, we get an opaque answer similar to the Conservative 2017 election manifesto it won’t cut the mustard.

To those who did not examine it at the time it sounds superficially persuasive. Can you spot the danger areas before moving on to the explanation?

2017 Manifesto: When we leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, we will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control. A new Conservative government will work with the fishing industry and with our world-class marine scientists, as well as the devolved administrations, to introduce a new regime for commercial fishing that will preserve and increase fish stocks and help to ensure prosperity for a new generation of fishermen. To provide complete legal certainty to our neighbours and clarity during our negotiations with the European Union, we will withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention. We will continue our work to conserve the marine environment off the coast of the United Kingdom.

If you spotted the flaw in this statement you have done well. The real problem comes in the middle:

‘We will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.’

The UK joined the CFP in 1973, just before fishing limits were extended to 200nm or the mid-line in 1976. Due to our obedience to the CFP this meant control over the waters within our new limits was automatically subcontracted to the EU rather than control exercised by Westminister.

Therefore, the UK has an EEZ out to 200nm or the med-line, but, due to subcontracting control to Brussels under the CFP have been denied the ability to exercise control over these waters – the UK has only exercised sovereign control over the waters within our territorial sea out to 12nm

This peculiar word choice – why not simply say all waters – means the words were deliberately and intentionally chosen. At that time alarm bells rang that the upper echelons of Conservative high command had no intention of properly taking back control of British fishing – proven by the subsequent performance of the May government.

Sneaky wording mustn’t be used in the 2019 manifesto. It must clearly rule out that in any forthcoming Future Relationship and Free Trade Treaty there must not be any form of long-term continuity of rights given to the EU. It must also unequivocally state that the UK will not be bound into CFP “associate membership” as the Political Declaration suggests.

If there is any wording similar to 2017 that hints at a give away on fisheries it will be clear that a genuine Brexit will not be happening and that instead we are being driven towards Brexit In Name Only despite repeated protestations to the contrary.