Environment secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee inquiry into post-Brexit trade yesterday (December 20) that as part of the government’s negotiations on a transition arrangement with the European Commission taking place over the next three months, it was looking for a special deal for UK fishing industry.
Special deal for fisheries
Gove said the UK would be arguing for a special deal for fisheries that allowed access to larger fish quotas for UK fishermen, while securing continuing access to fish imports from countries such as Iceland, which supplies around 75–80% of cod imports into the UK that are processed in Grimsby.
He would also be seeking a deal that ensured processed food exports to the EU would not be sacrificed in exchange for agreement on access to the fish quotas. However, he qualified his remarks by saying that he couldn’t predict the outcome of the transition negotiations.
Gove also confirmed that the UK was seeking a nine to 10 month transition deal for fisheries, rather the two years being looked at for other areas of trade.
This is because fisheries was a special case, involving agreements with countries in the European Economic Area, such as Norway and Iceland, which were not subject to Common Fisheries Area rules affecting the 28 EU Member States, said food minister George Eustice, who also gave evidence.
“Between now and March we will be negotiating over what the shape and the nature of the transition arrangement will be,” said Gove. “And we think the best approach to take is in international law we will become an Independent Coastal State when we leave the EU.
“We [will] agree to abide by the decisions that have been made in that December [EU Agriculture and Fisheries] Council of next year and then thereafter we are in a position similar to Norway.”
However, when pressed by EFRA member Labour MP Angela Smith about assurances of continued access to EU markets for exports of processed fish without the imposition of swingeing tariffs that would be highly damaging to processors in Grimsby, Gove was more equivocal.
No trade barriers
“I cannot guarantee what is in an agreement which, by definition, is going to be negotiated. But the critical point is the aim of the transition arrangement is to ensure that there will be no trade barriers during the two-year period that it would exist.
“It’s always possible that supply chains can change. But what is unlikely is that people will want to go to other countries when we will have control and are able to allocate access and quota to what will be the most productive of all the fishing grounds apart from Norway.”
Conservative EFRA member Sheryll Murray MP was assured by Gove that access to fish stocks would not be used as “a way of buying access” to EU markets in the future.