Scottish fishermen enraged about the inevitable happening
In September 2016 we detailed how Scottish fishermen who voted for Brexit were going to be let down.
Although we raised many points in that blog, including the extra cost of selling on a catch after we leave the Single Market. The main point of the blog was this:
When Ted Heath signed up to the Common Fisheries Policy, he did so safe in the knowledge that 4000 Scottish fishermen, half the fleet at the time, would lose their jobs. He did this because the Scottish fishing industry isn’t that important to the UK economy as a whole. The fishermen were pawns in a much bigger game.
Problem for them is, if they were pawns back then they are not even flecks of dust on the chess board now.
We followed that up with a blog showing that the article 50 white paper contained a goal of agreeing a mutually beneficial fishing deal. So, the stated negotiating strategy of the UK Government is to agree to access into UK waters for EU fishermen.
This week the EU released their draft negotiating guidelines for the Brexit trade talks.
Paragraph seven of the document states:
As regards the core of the economic relationship, the European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a free trade agreement (FTA), to be finalised and concluded once the UK is no longer a Member State. Such an agreement cannot offer the same benefits as Membership and cannot amount to participation in the Single Market or parts thereof.
This agreement would address:
trade in goods, with the aim of covering all sectors, which should be subject to zero
tariffs and no quantitative restrictions with appropriate accompanying rules of origin. In this context, existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.
Of course, the response from fishing industry leaders, UK nationalist politicians and the newly elected Tory MPs who helped lure the fishermen into voting for something that will likely make them worse off, was entirely predictable.
They lambasted the EU for having the audacity to protect their fishing industry and they expressed worry that the UK government will not deliver the Brexit they had hoped for.
However, that response is akin to expressing shock and anger at the sun rising. These events were highly predictable to anyone looking at this through neutral eyes. Those promising a new dawn for fishing were never in any position to deliver it, and delivering it would jeopardise getting good deals for larger, more powerful sectors of the economy.
This thought should have dawned on those who joined the EUREF flotilla, led up the Thames by Nigel Farage, an ex-commodities trader with no real power and a track record of not caring about the UK fishing industry.
It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s reaction to the EU draft paper that was more telling.
He basically confirmed what was written in the article 50 white paper. There will be a mutually beneficial deal on fishing access between the EU and the UK.
Of course, we would be open to discussing with our EU partners about the appropriate arrangements for reciprocal access for our fishermen to EU waters and for EU fishermen to our waters. We would have to negotiate the basis on which such an arrangement could be fair and appropriate for us.
Now compare that to his statement on financial services and the problem facing fishermen hits you in the face.
Philip Hammond has put Britain on a fresh collision course with Brussels after he warned the government could reject any Brexit trade deal not including financial services.
Speaking in Canary Wharf at the headquarters of HSBC on Wednesday afternoon, the chancellor said a trade deal would only happen if it balanced the interests of both the UK and the EU.
“It’s hard to see any deal that did not include financial services can look like a fair and balanced deal,” he said.
Just like in Ted Heath’s day, access to UK waters will be used as a bargaining chip to secure concessions in areas that the government sees as more important.
Only this time, the double whammy for fishermen is that trade barriers are going to be erected as well. Fishermen are going to end up with similar quotas but will find it more expensive to sell their catch to their biggest market; the EU the majority of them voted to leave.
The time for complaining that the inevitable is happening is over. You can’t blame the EU for using its power to protect its fleets and you can’t blame the UK for sacrificing the hopeful desires of a relatively small industry to protect the interests of much larger ones. It’s time for the ideologues who led fishermen into this mess to put their hands up and admit they made a mistake. They let a simplistic vision of a post-Brexit fishing utopia outstrip the reality of the situation and they may well have made themselves worse off as a consequence.