Michael Gove threatens EU with 'consequences' if they pillage UK waters during 'sub-optimal' Brexit transition

Christopher Hope
Environment secretary Michael Gove - REUTERS

Michael Gove has publicly criticised Theresa May’s transition deal after the UK leaves the European Union, setting out his “disappointment” with a “sub-optimal” agreement for British fishermen.

The Environment secretary threatened Brussels bureaucrats with “consequences” if they allow EU trawlers to overfish UK waters during the transition deal after he was confronted by furious Tory MPs in the House of Commons.

The MPs said they had put the Government "on notice" after they voiced concerns about the impact of the UK's Brexit transition deal on fishing directly with the Prime Minister.

Fishermen had wanted the UK to regain full control over the country's fishing waters immediately after the UK formally leaves the EU in March 2019.

However, the agreement - reached on Monday by Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier - states the UK will be "consulted" on the allocation of fishing quotas and access to waters during the transition period.

Theresa May Credit:  OLI SCARFF/AFP

Mrs May told her Cabinet on Tuesday that the deal reached in Brussels represented "another step forwards on the road to Brexit".

Around the Cabinet table senior ministers discussed the "safeguards which are in the agreement to protect the interests of British fishermen".

But asked when Mrs May would consider the UK to have taken back control of its waters, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's clear what is going to be happening going forward in the implementation period.

"In December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as a third country and an independent coastal state for the first time in over 40 years.”

Mrs May met the furious MPs after the Cabinet met. Tory MP John Lamont, one of the de facto leaders of the group, said Mrs May now “understood their concerns” after the frank meeting.

Mrs May could come under pressure over the deal when she answers questions from MPs in Prime Minister’s Questions later on Wednesday.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg Credit:  DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP

Conservative MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg, Craig Mackinlay and Ross Thomson MP are taking part in a protest on the River Thames outside Parliament this morning which will see fish discarded into the river in protest at EU policies.

Mr Gove – who led the Vote Leave campaign before the 2016 EU referendum - was said to be “furious” with the deal when he met with the Tory MPs and the party’s chief whip on Monday evening, hours after it emerged.

Mr Gove made clear his unease hours after the Cabinet telling MPs that “as someone whose father was a fish merchant and whose grandparents went to sea to  fish I understand how these communities feel. I share their disappointment”.

He added: “I strongly sympathise with concerns about past records of governments with fishing industry. 

“If EU were to choose to act in a way (not in good faith) the consequences for all would not be happy.

“If the EU were for any reason in 2019 to behave in a way which were contrary to our long-term interests, it would also be contrary to their long-term interests.”

He added that “in the transition deal we have accepted a sub-optimal outcome. But it is only for an additional 12 months and we must keep our eyes on the prize.”

Tory MPs lined up to criticise the deal in the Commons. Scottish Conservative MP Douglas Ross said: "There's no way I can sell this deal in the transitional period as anything like a success to fishing communities in Moray, Scotland or the UK."

Former Cabinet minister John Redwood added Mrs May must tell her fellow leaders at this week's European Council summit that the deal is “unacceptable”, adding: “We voted to take back control of our fish, our money, our borders and our laws.”

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