UK strikes fishing deal with Norway and offers fisheries 'transition period' to EU

James Crisp
·4-min read
The British fishing industry is hoping for a post-Brexit renaissance.  - Matt Cardy /Getty Images 
The British fishing industry is hoping for a post-Brexit renaissance. - Matt Cardy /Getty Images

Britain offered Brussels a three-year transition period on fishing during trade negotiations with the EU, it emerged on Wednesday as the Government hailed a historic fisheries treaty with Norway. 

UK negotiators submitted plans to gradually scale down EU fishermen's share of the catch in British waters from 2021 to 2024 in a bid to soothe fears over the impact of Brexit on European coastal communities. 

In London, it was announced the UK had signed its first fishing agreement since leaving the EU, and its first as an independent coastal state in 40 years. 

The Framework Fisheries Agreement with Norway provides a legal basis for annual negotiations on access to waters and quotas after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31. 

In a tweet David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator said he was "delighted".

Phasing in the new arrangements has long been suggested as a possible solution to the deadlock. British sources refused to comment on the fishing transition period, which was first reported by The Guardian, but one senior EU diplomat said the offer had not brought a breakthrough in the talks. 

British negotiators want annual negotiations on fishing opportunities and the calculation of opportunities using the "zonal attachment" method. Brussels wants a longer term arrangement and protection of ancient fishing rights. 

France, which has come under pressure from some member states to soften its stance,  is insisting on a system of permanent fishing quotas. It will resist the plan to phase out shares, arguing that access to British waters is the price of the zero tariff trade deal offered by Brussels. 

"This is nothing new because the UK has been saying this for months.  It shows things are not moving very fast," said one senior EU diplomat, "this is not a topic that will be easily resolved by phasing out".

"The fishing industry's fear from the beginning has been that we would again be sold out as we were in the 1970s, and that fear hasn't gone away," said Barrie Deas, the chief of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

"In some ways it is a litmus test for Brexit," added Mr Deas, who said the Norway agreement proved the EU's demands were an "aberration in international fisheries terms". 

On Monday night, Ireland's foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said there was a "good chance" of agreeing a trade deal before the EU's end of October deadline.

"The obstacles are not insurmountable," he said, adding that a deal would mean controversial provisions in the Internal Market Bill, which overrides parts of the Withdrawal Agreement would “fade away”, he said.  

Micheál Martin, the Irish prime minister, will discuss the Bill with EU leaders when they are updated on Brexit on Friday during a European Council meeting in Brussels.

The current round of trade negotiations is the last scheduled, and ends on Friday morning. It is hoped enough common ground will be found to begin more intense negotiations to finalise the trade deal by the October 15 EU summit. 

EU sources said a British offer this week over state subsidies did not go far enough. The EU wants the power to suspend parts of the trade deal if state aid rules are ignored by Britain. 

Some British exports could still face EU tariffs even if there is a free trade agreement with Brussels, it emerged after Lord Frost appeared to admit defeat in securing a key demand of the UK car industry

He told carmakers the EU had rejected "in any circumstances" a proposal that would allow assembled car parts from non-EU countries to count as "British" goods and so qualify for zero tariffs.

In a letter seen by the BBC, Lord Frost said the UK "obviously cannot insist upon it". He was criticised by industry sources, who suggested he had fought harder for fishing. 

Moves to secure an exemption for electric cars and bikes have also been stonewalled by the EU.

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