Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has written to the UK Government expressing his concerns over transitional arrangements for fisheries following Brexit and raising questions over the UK Government’s approach to fisheries in the upcoming negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Mr Ewing has asked the UK Government for ‘firm proposals’ on the nature of the consultation taking place between them and the EU ahead of the upcoming negotiations and assurances in relation to future negotiations, the protection of the fishing industry and Scotland’s voice in future fishing negotiations.
Full text of the letter below.
Dear Mr Gove,
“Further to the announcement on 19 March that the UK Government and the EU have reached a provisional agreement on the transitional arrangements that will apply after the UK leaves the EU, I wish to place on record my very serious objections to the impact the deal will have on Scottish fisheries.
The Scottish Government, in line with the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, supports continued EU membership. Short of that position, retaining our place in the Single Market and Customs Union is essential. We have also been clear, that if the UK is to leave the EU, there must be a transition agreement in order to provide certainty for business and communities.
We have consistently pressed for pragmatic arrangements to be found during the transition to ensure Scotland’s continued participation in specific EU decisions, such as the fixing of annual fishing quotas.
However, as I made clear in the Scottish Parliament earlier this week, the deal that the UK Government has provisionally made is the worst possible outcome for Scottish fisheries; one that means we will still be in the Common Fisheries Policy but not allowed to be a partner at the table – and therefore robbed of the means to protect our interests. Indeed, the deal the UK Government has made would appear to render our negotiating position weaker than ever – to the extent that neither the UK nor Scotland will be attending fisheries negotiations as a matter of right. The Scottish fishing industry, whose jobs, businesses and livelihoods are at stake, are rightly seeking clarification as to how this deal can be in their interests.
In announcing the agreement reached with the EU, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU was keen to highlight the requirement for the EU to “consult” the UK ahead of negotiations.
Mr Davis may place great faith in that “concession” but I remain deeply concerned that, even where consultation is undertaken in good faith, Scottish and UK fishing interests will be overridden where it is in the EU’s interest to do so without our presence in the negotiations themselves. I do not regard such a critical loss of influence over such a vital national interest, and the resultant democratic deficit, as a positive outcome for Scottish fisheries, and neither does the Scottish fishing industry.
Neither David Davis, yourself or the Prime Minister have provided any substantial information on the nature of this consultation. As a matter of urgency I request that you provide the Scottish Government and Scotland’s fishing industry with details on the form this consultation will take. I will be meeting George Eustice on Monday to discuss EU exit matters, including fisheries, and would ask that firm proposals are presented by the UK Government at that meeting on how it will include the Scottish Government in this consultative process.
The lack of priority given to fisheries by the UK Government in the transition negotiations raises huge concerns ahead of the upcoming negotiations on the future relationship with the EU. Ahead of that negotiation beginning I seek a number of clear guarantees for the benefit of Scotland’s fishing industry.
Firstly, that permanent access to Scottish waters and quota shares will not be used to secure other UK interests as part of this, or any future deal, with the EU.
Secondly, that provision has been made that whilst the UK will no longer be a member state that the EU have confirmed that international quota swapping mechanisms will remain in place as they currently are. As a net importer of quota, Scotland’s fishing fleets would face dire consequences around their very viability if this provision is not available for use.
Thirdly, in view of the significant interests that are at stake for Scotland, no negotiations with the EU should be undertaken on fisheries without seeking comprehensive input from the Scottish Government. I am aware David Lidington is to bring proposals on how the UK Government intends to include devolved administrations in the negotiations on the future relationship at the next meeting of the JMC(EN.) The importance of fisheries to Scotland cannot be understated in those negotiations.
Furthermore, that in taking forward negotiations on the future relationship there will be an explicit recognition that in future annual fisheries negotiations the Scottish Government must be given as a minimum an equal or lead role where Scottish interests are at stake, to ensure that the rights and needs of its fishermen are protected. It would be a further outrage should the UK’s decision to leave the EU result in any diminution of the direct representation of Scottish interests by the Scottish Government in the annual negotiation process.
I very much look forward to hearing your prompt response to the matters raised in this letter.