Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

UK leaves fishing convention amid Brexit talks

  • Countries are allowed to fish within 6 to 12 nautical miles of the coastline, according to the convention. (Photo: Ben Sutherland)

The UK is pulling out of a fishing convention that allows countries to fish near its coast, in order to fulfil one of its Brexit pledges.

Britain announced on Sunday (2 July) that it would withdraw from the 50-year-old London Fisheries Convention, which allows fishermen from some European countries to fish between six and 12 nautical miles (11 and 12 km) from its coastline.

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The convention also allows UK fishermen to fish close to the coast of Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

After a two-year withdrawal period, British fishermen will no longer be allowed into the waters, and vice versa.

"This is an historic first step towards building a new domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union, one which leads to a more competitive, profitable and sustainable industry for the whole of the UK,” environment secretary and Brexit supporter Michael Gove said.

"It means for the first time in more than 50 years, we will be able to decide who can access our waters," he added.

However, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned that leaving the London agreement does not mean the UK would be able to unilaterally decide whom to allow in and whom to keep out of its waters.

He said on Twitter that nothing would change because the EU's fishery laws are superior to the London Convention.

The London Convention was signed in 1964 before the UK joined the EU. The EU Common Fisheries Policy allows vessels from all EU countries to fish beyond the 12-mile limit.

British fishermen have been complaining that when the UK joined the European Community in 1973, their interests were sidelined.

Ireland's agriculture minister, Michael Creed, however criticised Britain's decision as "unwelcome and unhelpful.”

According to official data, 10,000 tonnes of fish – worth an estimated £17 million (€19 million) – were caught by vessels from other countries in 2015. However, the overall UK fisheries sector, with over 6,000 vessels, landed 708,000 tonnes of fish under the agreement – worth £775 million (€883 million).

No more cake

The move comes after the Guardian newspaper reported that London has realised it has to choose between political control and market access as it leaves the EU.

After the snap election last month saw UK prime minister Theresa May lose her majority, supporters of a softer Brexit, spearheaded by the Treasury and its chief, Philip Hammond, have gained more influence in the government.

The Guardian newspaper reported London has realised that it would have to abandon the policy of “having its cake and eating it”, meaning retaining full trade access and controlling immigration at the same time.

A spokesman for the Brexit ministry denied that there had been a change of policy since the election.

In the meantime, the Sunday Telegraph reported that business leaders were warned prime minister May could walk out of Brexit talks over the issue of the financial settlement as part of a negotiating tactic.

Estimates of the Brexit divorce bill vary between €60 and €100 billion.

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