Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

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The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has announced Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lowered his Brexit demands on Brussels by asking for up to 60 percent of catches in UK waters back from EU fishing fleets. As he briefed ambassadors and members of the European Parliament this morning, Mr Barnier said Downing Street had revised its demand down from 80 percent. The EU has so far offered the repatriation of only 15 percent to 18 percent of fishing catches.

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He conceded that it was unclear whether the divide could be bridged in the time remaining.

However, Mr Johnson‘s concession without a doubt marks a major climbdown on an issue both sides have stubbornly refused to budge on.

It is also not the first time Britain has backed down during the negotiations with Brussels.

Plans to take back control of the country’s fisheries the moment Britain left the EU had to be abandoned in the face of united EU opposition in 2018.

The backtrack was a significant blow to the ambitions of Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove.

Mr Gove put repatriating control of fisheries at the heart of his post-Brexit strategy.

Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control (Image: GETTY)

Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

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The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (Image: GETTY)

However, when it came to negotiate the terms of the transition period, the UK backed down.

Forced to accept some stability during a transition, Mr Gove demanded a shorter transition period for fishing of just nine or 10 months.

He teamed up with former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson to underline their joint determination to repatriate controls immediately.

They said: “We want the UK to become an independent coastal state, negotiating access annually with our neighbours.

“During the implementation period, we will ensure that British fishermen’s interests are properly safeguarded.”

Despite their calls, the EU made access to UK waters on existing terms throughout the transition period a red line of its own.

The Government had to eventually accept that the issue could not derail the deal on the transition, which was part of the withdrawal agreement.

Mr Johnson and former Prime Minister Theresa May were not the only Tory leaders to betray UK fishermen, though.

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Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: GETTY)

Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

UK-EU trade talks (Image: GETTY)

The first and most substantial betrayal came at the hands of Edward Heath.

Mr Heath took Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973.

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, former Foreign Secretary and SDP co-founder Lord David Owen recalled how Mr Heath was so “desperate” to join that he even effectively handed away British fishing grounds as a kind of late entry fee.

Lord Owen said: “It was a scandal.

“Ted Heath traded in our waters.

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“Over the years, people have pointed out that fishing is a small part of our economy.

“That doesn’t matter, there are things you cannot trade off.”

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Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove (Image: GETTY)

Sir Con O’Neill, the diplomat who led British officials in the delegation to negotiate Britain’s membership of the EEC, wrote that Mr Heath would have paid any price to join the bloc in the early Seventies.

Sir Con claimed the principle that guided the negotiations leading to Britain’s accession to the EEC, which took place between 1970 and 1972, was “swallow the lot and swallow it now”, as the only thing that mattered was to get in.

One of the things Britain was ready to “swallow” included its fisheries.

The diplomat acknowledged mistakes in the fishing talks, as he claimed his negotiating team “failed to foresee the way in which, and the intensity with which, political pressures on the question of fishing limits would develop”.

Mr Heath, then Prime Minister, dismissed the notion that he had betrayed British fishermen as “absurd and insulting”.

However, Sir Con’s account suggests that British negotiators could have stopped the adoption of a Common Fisheries Policy if they had realised how important the issue was.

He wrote: “I have no doubt that we made mistakes.

“The first was in not trying harder than we did to stop the adoption of a common fisheries policy. I believe we could have at least postponed such an agreement; and if we had, it is possible, though questionable, that we could have postponed it indefinitely.

Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

Lord David Owen (Image: GETTY)

Brexit betrayal: Michael Gove dropped bid for instant return of fisheries control

Former Prime Minister Edward Heath (Image: GETTY)

“Almost a year later, we made a major mistake in putting the proposals we put to them on June 1, 1971.

“Why was our handling of the issue of fisheries far more uncertain, and more faulty, than our handling of other issues?

“We did not at the outset realise how acute the question would become and, in part, our retreat from our opening position and the gradual stepping up of our demands was due simply to the mounting political pressure exercised upon us.”

The account only became public 19 years ago as it was feared its release would cause controversy and might have offended the French and other governments.

It was first published by the Daily Telegraph.

Sir David Hannay, the former British ambassador to the UN who edited the account, told the publication: “This was considered to be a reasonably sensitive document and was treated as very restricted.”


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