In honor of the occasion, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put on a special accessory: on Christmas Eve he announced the Brexit trade pact with the EU, his dark tie was adorned with a school of fish.
A choice with symbolic power – because hardly anything has been so bitterly disputed between Brussels and London as the access of EU fishermen to British waters, in short: the fishing question. For many Britons, control over their own waters has become a symbol of the sovereignty regained through Brexit. On the other hand, EU coastal states such as France, Belgium and Denmark did not want to give in either.
Johnson’s announcement, however, has deeply disappointed British fishermen. The promises that by voting for Brexit they would regain control of all British fishing waters have been broken, they say. This is what the British newspaper “Guardian” reports. Barrie Deas, chairman of the board of directors of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, claims his industry was betrayed to win a sweeping deal.
“In the end, the prime minister made the decision and buckled about the fishery despite assurances that he would not do what Ted Heath did in 1973,” Deas told the newspaper. The then Prime Minister Heath had agreed to allow other EU countries to fish in British waters.
A cut of 80 percent called for, 25 percent agreed
The managing director of the fishing company UK Fisheries, Jane Sandell, is also not satisfied: “We are pleased that the UK-EU deal brings some security to parts of our industry, even though we are still waiting for the ‘huge quantities of fish’ that will come to us were promised. Nothing changes for us. ”Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Saturday that promises made to her country’s fishing industry had been broken. She says this is “another example of the Tory governments forcing Scotland in the wrong direction”.
The trade agreement between the EU and the UK provides for a five and a half year transition period. During this time, fishing rights for EU fishermen will be gradually reduced by 25 percent, but they will still have access to the fishing zone between six and twelve miles off the UK coast. From June 2026, annual negotiations on the catch quotas will take place. The agreement gives both sides the opportunity to impose tariffs on the other side’s fish exports in the event of serious differences of opinion.
Great Britain originally called for the EU’s rights to be cut by 80 percent. At the beginning of the week, the EU rejected an offer from London that provided for quota cuts of up to 60 percent over a three-year transition period. At the time, Brussels’ offer stood at a cut of only 25 percent and a transition period of six years.
French fishermen: no deal would have been a disaster
In the EU countries too, the fishermen’s reactions are cautious, but they probably expected a poorer negotiation result. “We are losing part of our quotas, which is unfortunate, but the death knell is not ringing,” said Olivier Leprêtre, president of fishermen in the Hauts-de-France region in northern France.
Jean-Luc Hall, director of the National Committee for Deep Sea Fisheries in France, told AFP that he was “relieved” that the risk of a no deal was very high and that it “would have been a disaster for French fishermen.” Even if the agreement is not perfect, “we can continue to work and have a certain ability to plan”. In the event of a no deal, the French fishermen threatened to foreclose their own fishing areas and markets for the British. Scallops in the English Channel are particularly lucrative. As early as 2018, the French and British were bitterly fighting over fishing rights for the delicacy.
Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) has promised support for the German fishermen. For the fishery, the result means “painful cuts,” she said on Friday. “In future, some of the catches in the North Sea will have to be dispensed with.” She would have liked the decline in fishing rights to be “significantly less”. It is all the more important that the agreement provides for a transition period of five and a half years with defined quota regulations and guaranteed access to fishing grounds. “So there is at least a certain degree of planning security.”
But it is “clear” that the fishermen have to be helped “in this difficult situation.” Currently “almost all of our herring catches and over half of the mackerel catches in the North Sea are caught in British waters”. The EU member states would “carefully examine” the draft, announced the minister.
The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has also assured the fishermen in the EU of Brussels’ support in the implementation of the future trade agreement. “The EU will stand by the side of the European fishermen and accompany them, that’s what we are committed to,” said Barnier shortly after the agreement was announced. The agreement enables mutual access to the fishing grounds, with new catch quotas and a new division of fishing zones in force in the future. “This agreement takes effort, I know that,” said Barnier.