A senior member of the UK negotiating team has defended the trade deal after the Prime Minister was accused of “sacrificing” fishing rights.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said the industry had been “sold out” over the agreement, which includes a transition period allowing EU and UK fishing vessels access to each other’s waters for another five years.
Claims from officials at the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) that Boris Johnson had only secured “a fraction of what the UK has a right to under international law” prompted a response from a senior person involved with the talks.
The draft agreement, released on Boxing Day morning, contains numerous pages dedicated entirely to fishing policy in the UK and EU’s new relationship, and asserts the “sovereign rights” of EU states and the UK “for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living resources in their waters”.
However it also includes a line on “the social and economic benefits of a further period of stability, during which fishers would be permitted until June 30 2026 to continue to enter the waters of the other party”.
Reacting to the text, Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Tories have sold out Scottish fishing all over again.
“Promises they knew couldn’t be delivered, duly broken.”
The fact that many predicted it, doesn’t make it any less galling. The Tories have sold out Scottish fishing all over again. Promises they knew couldn’t be delivered, duly broken. https://t.co/2oOV7nazm4
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 26, 2020
Barrie Deas, chief of the NFFO, said the deal “will inevitably be seen by the fishing industry as a defeat”.
He explained: “When push came to shove, despite the legal, moral and political strength of our case, fishing was sacrificed for other national objectives.
“Lacking legal, moral, or political negotiating leverage on fish, the EU made the whole trade deal contingent on a UK surrender on fisheries.
“In the end-game, the Prime Minister made the call and caved in on fish, despite the rhetoric and assurances that he would not do what Ted Heath did in 1973.”
An industry source said “a lot of fishers will be bitterly disappointed” by the deal, but added: “Perhaps they had unrealistic expectations fuelled by the blowhard Brexit PR.”
A senior member of the UK’s negotiating team has since defended the agreement, and described fish as “one of the areas where we had to compromise somewhat”, but said this had been done by “both sides”.
The official said: “The crucial thing on fisheries policy is that although there is a transition, at the end of the transition it returns to normal arrangements, and we have full control over our waters.
“There’s a transition to that point and ideally we would’ve got out of it a bit faster, but where we’ve got to is acceptable and offers gains for the fisheries industry in the short run and a huge right to control everything and work within that after this five-and-a-half-year transition.”