Exclusive: British fishermen unprepared to take full advantage of extra quota when UK reclaims its waters, Scottish Tory leader says

Edward Malnick
·3-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on from aboard the Opportunis IV fishing trawler during a visit to Peterhead in Scotland  -  AFP
Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on from aboard the Opportunis IV fishing trawler during a visit to Peterhead in Scotland - AFP

British fishermen are not ready to take full advantage of the additional stocks the country stands to reclaim from the EU, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Douglas Ross said the UK's fishing industry did not yet have the "capacity" to reap the full benefits of leaving the Common Fisheries Policy at the end of this year.

Mr Ross's remarks came after Nigel Farage accused Boris Johnson of "backing down" on fish in the post-Brexit trade talks.

On Sunday, Mr Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president agreed to "intensify" negotiations this week. In a joint statement the two sides said that "progress had been made in recent weeks" but that "significant gaps remained", including on the issue of fishing rights in UK waters.

Mr Johnson is understood to have insisted that the UK was prepared to end the post-Brexit transition period without a formal trade agreement, as he warned that time was short to agree a deal. The UK has said it needs "clarity" by Oct 15 on whether a deal is possible.

Last week it emerged that the UK had proposed a new three-year transition period for fisheries, in a bid to help unlock the talks. Over the course of the three-year period, the catches of EU fishermen would be gradually reduced before the implementation of new quotas.

UK fishing industry in numbers
UK fishing industry in numbers

Mr Ross's remarks are likely to foreshadow the arguments that ministers would make to placate the fishing industry and Tory Brexiteers, if the negotiators agree such an arrangement.

While warning that fishing was a "totemic" issue for Scotland, Mr Ross said: "While I understand what the industry want to see and want to get to immediately, we've also got to ensure we have the capacity, both in the catching sector and in the processing sector to deal with the benefits we will get for our fishermen and fishing communities as we leave the Common Fisheries Policy.

"I think a lot of people would accept right now, we're not at the stage where we have the capacity to deliver on that here in Scotland or across the UK, and we've got to work towards that."

Following a telephone conversation between Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen, a joint statement drawn up by Downing Street and Brussels stated: "They agreed on the importance of finding an agreement, if at all possible, as a strong basis for a strategic EU-UK relationship in future.

"They endorsed the assessment of both Chief Negotiators that progress had been made in recent weeks but that significant gaps remained, notably but not only in the areas of fisheries, the level playing field, and governance.

"They instructed their Chief Negotiators to work intensively in order to try to bridge those gaps.

"They agreed to speak on a regular basis on this issue."