Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), has told Boris Johnson the historic 2016 Brexit vote was delivered to take back sovereignty over UK fishing waters – a warning issued amid a last-ditch bid by the EU to regain access to Britain territories. Britain is on course to leave the controversial Common Fisheries Policy at the end of the year, however EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has put pressure on the UK to reconsider following a sudden compromise.
On Monday, a transcript of evidence given to the House of Lords on June 23 by Mr Barnier, revealed the EU is willing to accept a data-driven proposal involving fishing quotas – which would be determined by the amount of marine life in the sea.
The sudden shift from Brussels comes after the transcripts also revealed Mr Barnier gave the UK and ultimatum and warned there will be no trade deal unless there is a “balanced agreement” on fisheries.
Mr Deas, the chief of the representative body for fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, insisted a trade deal would be in the “interest of both parties” but warned to “surrender sovereignty” over UK waters would call into question what 17.4 million people really voted for.
Boris Johnson has been issued a reminder over UK fishing waters
He told Express.co.uk: “All the signs are that the Government as a whole, the Prime Minister and the Chief Negotiator, David Frost, understand that fishing is a totemic issue.
“The UK will not sell out fishing because that would be to surrender sovereignty over our waters and people would rightly ask what Brexit was for. A trade deal is in the interest of both parties.”
On Monday ahead of talks with his David Frost in Downing Street, the transcripts revealed Mr Barnier would support a proposal known as zonal attachment – where fishermen would be able to catch fish according to how long the marine life stays in a territory.
The method driven by data science would base fishing quotas on climate change – which has led to more fish heading to UK waters – therefore more fish would be taken out of British territories than anywhere else.
He indicated the EU would also be looking towards re-negotiating fishing arrangements every 12 months.
Mr Deas has insisted the latest concession proved the EU has finally realised its negotiating position was wrong and is moving towards damage limitation.
He said: “I think that the Commission recognise that the EU negotiating mandate on fishing is unachievable.
“The UK has made it clear that it will be an independent coastal state and can be expected to exercise the rights and responsibilities of a coastal state as defined in the UN Law of the Sea.
“The Commission’s strategy is containment and limiting the amount of divergence from the status quo.
“I think the UK has made clear that for the UK this is a matter of principle and nothing that constrains UK sovereignty to manage its own waters will be acceptable.”
In the extracts Mr Barnier also acknowledged the current fishing arrangements were not fair on British fishermen.
He said: “I am waiting with much patience for a reply from the British side.
“If there is no response, there will be no agreement on fisheries and no agreement on trade.”
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He added: “You can discuss fishing stocks regularly every year in the light of the scientific advice, so that we can protect resources and biodiversity, but negotiating access to waters and the fish in those waters every year would be impossible for 100-odd species.
“There will be no trade agreement with the UK if there is no balanced agreement on fisheries.
“Is this ‘balanced agreement’ the British position, as it is now? Certainly not. Is it the European position as it is today? Clearly not.”
Following the most recent talks on Tuesday, Mr Barnier said the discussions were “useful” however acknowledged “significant divergences remain”.
The next round of Brexit trade talks will take place next week in Brussels.