A decidedly slippery issue, on which the already difficult agreement on Brexi risks being wrecked: it is that of the fishing. Or rather, of the right to fish in the rich British territorial waters after 1 January 2021, the day Britain officially leaves the European Union. A technically complex issue, which should be resolved with an honest compromise between the parties and instead risks paying for the climate of political confusion, potentially putting you at risk, as it warns Politico, the entire post-Brexit negotiation.
The issue dates back to 1973, when London became part of the then European Economic Community and agreed to acshare the right to fish in its waters with neighboring countries. Fishing is worth just 0.12% of British GDP, but the fish industry has built up an aura of patriotism and solid political support over the years, making it crucial in the farewell to Europe debate on a par with or more than the British car industry or that of finance. In the eighties spopulist logan on how “Europe stole our fish” have helped to create a climate of expectation, which has grown further ahead of Brexit, with the government led by Boris Johnson who has a real hot potato in his hands.
On the other hand, only five European states are interested in the possibility of fishing in the British waters of the English Channel, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean: France, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and Holland. However, for these nations the dispute with Great Britain jeopardizes the survival of a vital sector for the national economy – this is the case in Denmark – or the economy of entire cities and regions, as in other countries. An example concerns the north coast of France: the fleets of fishing boats departing from Pas de Calais, Brittany and Normandy derive 60% of their catch from waters that will become British by New Year.
And when the issue was discussed by the ambassadors of European countries last week in Brussels, the Belgian representative to the EU, Willem van de Voorde, pulled an unexpected ace out of his sleeve. The diplomat, leaving many colleagues puzzled, cited a treaty signed by King Charles II in 1666, the Privilege of the Visscherie, under which fifty fishermen from Bruges had obtained “the eternal right” to fish in British waters.
But if there is any doubt about the validity of the Belgian treaty, what is certain is that the fishing game is crucial for the negotiations: after Brexit many of the most fishy waters of Northern Europe will in fact fall under British jurisdiction, that is, in an area that can potentially extend up to 200 miles from the coast. The European countries, led by Macron’s France, ask that after January 1st there be no restrictions on the access of EU fishing boats in British waters, otherwise any other agreements with London will also have no value: a position that many believe unrealistic. In fact, yesand no agreement is reached, the UK would have the right to deny access by other countries’ fishing vessels to its economic zone. A ban that, as the EU chief negotiator underlined Michel Barnier, it could prove far more dangerous for France and the other countries concerned than a compromise that could, for example, include the imposition of quotas on the quantity of fish that can be caught. But even the English fishermen, whatever the politicians say, are at great risk from a “fish war“With Europe: four fifths of their scallops and lobsters are in fact sold to countries on the continent, in particular France and Spain. Reaching an agreement would therefore be in everyone’s interest, but less than three months after their farewell, the parties are still on the high seas.