Jacob Rees-Mogg has rowed back from reports he was planning to fling fish into the Thames in protest at delays in taking control of UK waters after Brexit – declaring: “I am not a fish thrower”.
The leading Tory Brexiteer said Theresa May should reconsider concessions on fishing to the EU during the transition period but laughed off claims he would be boarding a boat for the stunt with fellow MPs Sheryll Murray and Craig Mackinlay later this week.
Fishermen have pushed for the UK to regain full control over its waters on exit day in March 2019 but Brexit Secretary David Davis struck a deal with EU chief negotiator Michel Barner that leaves Britain subject to EU rules during the two-year transition.
It comes as the Prime Minister was due to meet Scottish Tories and other MPs from coastal areas who are furious at the draft deal, with one politician claiming it would be easier to get people to “drink a pint of cold sick” than persuade them it had been a success.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the influential European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservatives, denied protest claims, telling LBC: “I’m not throwing fish anywhere. I am not a fish thrower.
“I think this has got slightly out of hand. There was a suggestion a fishing boat should go up the Thames in protest against the delay in leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, but I won’t be throwing fish anywhere.
“I have a nasty feeling that if I were to start throwing fish, they would be brought back in the wind and hit me in the face.”
However, he backs complaints by Moray MP Douglas Ross and other Scottish Conservatives that the transition deal amounted to a betrayal of British fisherman.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “As a unionist I greatly welcome the opportunity for Scottish fishing, particularly. The majority of fish in British waters are actually in Scottish waters.
“So it will be particularly helpful to the Scottish economy to have a regrowth of its fishing industry. And to delay that by 21 months is regrettable, I happen to think an error, and I don’t think the Government should have conceded on fish.”
Britain and the EU agreed the terms of the Brexit transition period on Monday, which Mr Davis hailed as a “significant step” towards reaching an overall final deal. Both sides reached a compromise, where the UK can sign trade deals during the period but must accept EU rules and free movement of citizens.
Tory Brexiteers have given the deal a cautious welcome – despite the concessions Britain has offered – as they believe it is a price worth paying for leaving the bloc.
Mr Rees-Mogg described it as “purgatory before we get into heaven”, but maintained he thought there was no need for a transition deal, as it only came about because of “nervousness”.
Former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said he was prepared to give the Prime Minister the “benefit of the doubt” on transition plans.
The Tory politician told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I want obviously as much control back to the UK during the implementation period – that would be the general view of most of my party and I think most of the country.
“However I think it is also accepted that we want to get to the end result as fast as possible.
“At the end of the day, on balance, I want fishing control back but the Prime Minister has been very clear, that will come back the moment we finally finish this transition and I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt on that.”
EU leaders will discuss the draft transition deal at a meeting of the European Council in Brussels this week, where they are expected to rubber-stamp the findings and set out plans for talks on the future trading relationship between the EU and UK.