A major funding package will be announced for the fishing sector in the “near future” to help it to take full advantage of Brexit, Michael Gove has said.
The Cabinet Office Minister insisted the new agreement the UK has struck with the European Union was the “best possible deal” for the industry as a whole.
Fishermen’s leaders have accused Boris Johnson of betraying the industry over the compromise struck with Brussels over future fishing rights in UK waters.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed “the Tories have sold out Scottish fishing all over again” with the new arrangements.
Ms Sturgeon hit out after the deal allows for European boats to fish in UK waters for several years to come.
Under the terms agreed by the EU and the UK Government, 25% of EU boats’ fishing rights in UK waters will be transferred to the UK fishing fleet, over a transition period lasting up to June 30 2026.
Mr Gove, writing in the Scotsman, insisted the deal would give the UK “control over who comes into our territorial waters” as he also promised cash support for the industry.
The Cabinet Office Minister said: “Where at present British fishermen are entitled to around half the fish in our waters, in 2026 they will be taking two-thirds of our marine wealth – a sizable uplift.
“In the meantime, during the period of transition agreed with the EU for both sides to adjust to the scale of the change, there will be a gradual increase in the amount of fish we are entitled to take.”
He continued: “We will use the time to invest in the UK fleet and our communities, to make sure they can take full advantage of the riches flowing back to us, and to build a sustainable industry and healthy stocks.
“I am delighted to say that details of a major funding package will be announced in the very near future.”
He stressed: “I grew up in Aberdeen, with my father running a fish processing business, so I know how vital it was for our negotiators to carry on to the last possible moment on the last possible day to secure the best possible deal not only for our catching sector, but the industry as a whole.”
He claimed the “good news” extended to fish processing plants, which he said could “carry on doing business with the EU and elsewhere” while shellfish exporters “can continue to trade with our European neighbours unfettered by tariffs”.
Mr Gove insisted the Brexit deal agreed on Christmas Eve was the “only one the EU has signed with another country where there are no tariffs or quotas on any goods, nor any requirement to follow EU rules”.
He stated: “That means we can provide cash support for industries, develop new ways of supporting our farmers and invest in new opportunities for our universities without EU laws stopping us.”
Andrew Locker, chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said they would be “absolutely worse off” as a result of the deal.
“I am angry, disappointed and betrayed. Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have got a fraction of that,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“We are absolutely worse off. When we were within the EU we used to trade fish with the EU. We used to swap things we didn’t use with fish that they didn’t use and that enabled us to put together an annual fishing plan.
“What we have got now is a fraction of what we were promised through Brexit. We are going to really, really struggle this year.
“When Boris Johnson and his Government promised Brexit to the fishermen he promised none of us would be worse off. There is a considerable amount of fishermen – small families, small communities – absolutely worse off by this deal.”