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Analysis

Scottish Tories could sink May’s Brexit on fishing failures

by Nick Kent | 19.03.2018

The government has retreated on many things to secure its transitional deal with the EU, but it could be its failure to honour promises on fishing that proves its undoing. Scottish Tory MPs in particular will struggle to support a deal that doesn’t include the UK taking back control of its waters.

The fishing industry has become the poster boy of Brexit.  Leavers take it for granted that the decline of the industry since the 1970s was caused by the EU.  Leaving, they argue would enable the sector to revive. The Scottish fisheries industry has been particularly vocal about that.  The Leavers demanded, and Michael Gove agreed, that the government must secure the UK’s control of its waters from Brexit day.

Today, it was confirmed they haven’t done that.  The Brexiteers’ red line, the UK controlling access to its waters after Brexit day, hasn’t been met.  Worse, Article 125 of the agreement gives the UK no more than a right to be consulted about fishing quotas, with no vote and continued fishing in UK waters by boats from other EU countries until the end of the transition.

One of the first to condemn that agreement was John Lamont, the Scottish Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk.  In a tweet he confirmed that he would vote against a final deal that did not include complete control over fish stocks and vessel access.  Worse, his party leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, promptly tweeted her support.  It is no surprise that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has also bitterly attacked today’s agreement.

The iconic status of the fishing industry for Leavers was always double-edged.  Deliver for that sector and the voters might overlook some other parts of the economy losing out.  But failure to deliver for the fishing industry will look like total failure.

The truth is that the fishing sector was never likely to get a clear cut victory.  The UK imports most of the fish it consumes and exports most of what it catches – much of it to the EU.  This gives the EU extra bargaining power in the negotiations about the future of fishing.

In the absence of a majority at Westminster, Theresa May is liable to be buffeted by winds from all directions.  Her standard way to deal with her critics is to coat everything in fudge. But you can’t do that with fishing; either the UK will control access to its waters or it won’t.  If the EU won’t agree to that or the government has to trade fishing for a larger sector of the economy, like access for financial services, the votes of Scottish Tory MPs overfishing could yet sink the deal.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    One Response to “Scottish Tories could sink May’s Brexit on fishing failures”

    • The fishing industry were fools to think they could dictate the terms of these negotiations. They have already overplayed their hand. Just take a look at Grimsby’s groveling now for a fine example of Karma. All they can do now is to help kill the monster they helped to breathe life into before it strangles them completely. Oh, the irony!