British fishermen have delivered a warning to the UK Government to protect fisheries and to French fishing vessels considering illegally fishing in British waters once the UK has left the European Union. The British Government has repeatedly said the UK will once again become an “independent coastal state” once the country has fully cut ties with the Brussels bloc. But, earlier this summer, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was criticised after a leaked email revealed their assessment on the UK’s ability to protect its waters in the event of a no deal Brexit.
DEFRA suggested Britain’s patrol boats could not fully protect the country’s waters after leaving the much-criticised Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which imposes strict catching quotas among EU countries.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Fishing for Leave spokesman Alan Hastings warned if the UK Government doesn’t protect British waters, then fishermen will simply do it themselves.
He said: “If the Government doesn’t ensure that EU boats don’t illegally fish in our waters then we will do it ourselves. It is as simple as that.
“If the Government doesn’t want a barney at sea, obey international law, obey domestic law, take back control of our waters and run them for our own national benefit, for our own fleet, for our own communities.
“That means the EU is going to cut its cloth and they are not to illegally fish in our waters. The Government has got to abide by international law to ensure they don’t.”
He added: “If the Government doesn’t want to stick up for Britain’s national interests, doesn’t want to obey international law to protect our waters. British fishermen will happily do it themselves.
“Let’s remember here, international law says nations coastal states will ensure sustainable fishing in their waters. That cuts two ways, one, you set management and catch limits to ensure that. On the EU side, that means they have got to cut their cloth to reflect the loss of their waters.
“Obviously, to fish sustainably it puts an obligation to not invade our waters. Plus they have got respect the sovereignty of nation-states.“
Only last year, in August, British boats clashed with French vessels in a feud dubbed the ‘Scallop war’, as trawlers collided and stones were thrown in a battle over a scallop-rich area, and warnings were made over potential fresh disputes post-Brexit.
But, responding to the leaked email earlier this summer, Mr Hastings insisted the UK had enough resources to protect British waters after Brexit.
He said: “At the end of the day, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, they manage, with equal or lesser resources to protect their waters, and you don’t see mass illegal fishing going on there.
“You might not detect every vessel that tries to fish illegally, but you will manage to pick up most of them.”
Fishing for Leave insisted “putative fines” must be in place to deter any boats from fishing in British waters illegally post-Brexit.
“If the French are treated in that manner, firm but fair, it will soon take the novelty off of trying to illegally fish in British waters,” Mr Hastings said.
Mr Hastings warnings came under the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of October this year, or agreeing to a deal where British fisheries are fully taken back under control of the Government.
But, it’s currently unclear what future terms would be agreed if Prime Minister Boris Johnson secures a deal with the Brussels bloc.
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If the French are treated in that manner, firm but fair, it will soon take the novelty off of trying to illegally fish in British waters
Speaking in the House of Commons towards the end of July, during his first speech as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson insisted the UK would soon become an “independent coastal state”.
Following a question about the controversial Common Fisheries Policy, Mr Johnson insisted Britain will “take back our fisheries” after Brexit.
While Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had said that from 2021 the UK would control fishing access to a 200 nautical mile zone around its coastline.
But, since then, the scheduled Brexit deadline has been pushed back to October 31 – delayed from the original exit date of March 29 this year, and the Prime Minister has now outlined his proposals to try to re-start negotiations with the EU, after a stalemate over the controversial Irish ‘backstop’ issue.
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s fresh proposals which were announced to the public this week, Mr Hastings warned: “Alarmingly, the proposal announced by the government merely dilutes the backstop and does nothing to deal with the rest of the dire implications of the withdrawal agreement.
“The backstop has now taken up all the political focus – either because it was the most punitive condition or deliberately to distract from the rest of the dire deal which remains just as cataclysmically dangerous for Britain.”
Mr Hastings warned if the terms agreed by former Prime Minister Theresa May in the political declaration, which sets out the future relationship between the UK and the EU, were adopted by Mr Johnson, it would leave the fishing industry “in a bad place indeed”.
“For our fishing industry that is so totemic it would be a complete surrender,” he said.
But, finalising his letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker earlier this week, Mr Johnson wrote: “I hope that these proposals can now provide the basis for rapid negotiations towards a solution, together with finalisation of the necessary changes to the Political Declaration reflecting the goal of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, so that an Article 50 agreement can be reached, and the UK can leave the EU in an orderly fashion on 31 October. This will allow us to focus on the positive future relationship that I believe is in all of our interests.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “On 31 October we will become an independent coastal state – this means that, for the first time in over 40 years, we will be able to decide who can fish in our waters and on what terms.
“The UK has robust control and enforcement resources in place to tackle illegal fishing and protect our territorial waters – all of which have been significantly strengthened ahead of Brexit.”
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