EU fishermen will be eligible for compensation if the UK blocks access to its fishing waters in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the European Commission confirmed on Wednesday (23 January).
The EU executive tabled an amendment to its rules on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which provides financial support to coastal communities and fishermen, enabling them to be compensated if the UK prevents them from fishing its waters.
It also published a proposal to ensure that the EU is able to give UK boats access to European waters until the end of 2019, provided that EU vessels are granted reciprocal access.
The changes are the latest pieces of contingency planning by the Commission in case the UK leaves the EU without agreeing a withdrawal deal by 29 March, when it is due to formally leave the bloc.
“This will help offset some of the impact of a sudden closure of UK waters to EU fishing vessels in a no-deal scenario,” the Commission said in a statement.
The UK will inherit around 100 pieces of law related to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) after Brexit, and plans to remain part of the CFP and its quota schemes until the end of the planned post-Brexit transition period.
However, MPs rejected the proposed Withdrawal Agreement setting out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU and, without an agreement, there will be no transitional arrangements.
Although the UK’s fisheries sector is small, with an annual catch of around £800 million (€900 million), fisheries policy has been one of the most politically important elements of the Brexit negotiations.
EU countries currently generate around €585 million worth of revenue from UK waters, and the access of EU fleets from eight member states – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, and The Netherlands – to UK waters has long been a bone of contention to British fishermen.
Around 50% of catches by Belgian vessels are currently made in the UK and the average across the eight countries is 14%.
“The allocation of fishing opportunities under the Common Fisheries Policy is outdated, and the UK’s share does not accurately reflect the resources in UK waters,” the UK’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove said last July.
The UK government says that it will leave the Common Fisheries Policy and decide unilaterally how much access to give to EU boats after it leaves the bloc. In a government White Paper published last July, Gove said that leaving the EU would allow Britain to become “an independent coastal state for the first time in over 40 years”.
“We will decide who can access our waters after 2020, and on what terms,” Gove stated.