Scottish government raises concerns over Brexit arrangements’ impact on fishing industry

Published on
March 26, 2018

Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s rural economy secretary, has written to the government of the United Kingdom, expressing his anxiety over the transitional arrangements for fisheries following Brexit and raising questions over the country's approach to fisheries in the upcoming negotiations regarding its future relationship with the European Union.

Following the announcement on 19 March that E.U. chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the U.K. secretary of state for exiting the E.U., David Davis, had reached a provisional agreement on the transitional arrangements that will apply after the United Kingdom ceases to be a member state, Ewing asked the U.K. government for details of the nature of the consultation taking place with the E.U. ahead of the upcoming negotiations. Ewing also requested assurances in relation to future negotiations, the protection of the fishing industry, and that Scotland’s voice in future fishing negotiations would be heard.

In a letter to U.K. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Ewing shared his “very serious objections” to the impact the deal will have on Scottish fisheries, saying he believes that it represented “the worst possible outcome” as it means the United Kingdom will still be in the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), but not allowed to be a partner at the table. He said that it was, therefore, “robbed of the means” to protect its interests.   

Ewing added that the deal would appear to render the fishing industry’s negotiating position weaker than ever because neither the United Kingdom nor Scotland would be attending fisheries negotiations. 

“The Scottish fishing industry, whose jobs, businesses and livelihoods are at stake, are rightly seeking clarification as to how this deal can be in their interests,” Ewing said. 

Ewing also noted that in announcing the agreement reached with the E.U., Davis had been keen to highlight the requirement for the E.U. to consult the United Kingdom ahead of negotiations, but that he remains “deeply concerned” that even where consultation is undertaken in good faith, Scottish and U.K. fishing interests will be overridden where it is in the E.U.’s interest to do so without their presence in the negotiations themselves. 

“I do not regard such a critical loss of influence over such a vital national interest, and the resultant democratic deficit, as a positive outcome for Scottish fisheries, and neither does the Scottish fishing industry,” he said.   

The letter urged Gove to provide details on the form the consultation will take, and also requested “a number of clear guarantees” ahead of the upcoming negotiations on the future relationship with the E.U. for the benefit of Scotland’s fishing industry.

Firstly, he asked that permanent access to Scottish waters and quota shares will not be used to secure other U.K. interests as part of this, or any future deal, with the E.U..

Secondly, that provision has been made that while the United Kingdom will no longer be a member state, the E.U. has confirmed that international quota swapping mechanisms will remain in place. Ewing said that as a net importer of quota, Scotland’s fishing fleets would face dire consequences around their viability if this provision was not available for use. 

Thirdly, in view of the significant interests that are at stake for Scotland, no negotiations with the E.U. should be undertaken on fisheries without seeking comprehensive input from the Scottish government, Ewing said.

Lastly, in future annual fisheries negotiations, the Scottish government must be given as a minimum an equal or lead role where Scottish interests are at stake, to ensure that the rights and needs of its fishermen are protected, Ewing concluded.  

Last week, Barnier and Davis set a transition period for the United Kingdom’s departure from the E.U. to last from 29 March, 2019, to December 2020. They also agreed that the United Kingdom would continue to be part of the annual fishing negotiations taking place at the end of this year for 2019. It will negotiate fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state thereafter. 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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