The Brief – Rotting in the docks

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The-Brief-Article-template-please-duplicate-1-1 [EPA-EFE/VICKIE FLORES]

The images of then UKIP leader Nigel Farage floating in a dinghy on the River Thames – encountering a flotilla of Remainers led by Bob Geldof and doling out profanity like candy – is one of the memories of the 2016 referendum campaign that is, unfortunately, hard to forget.

‘Taking back control of our fish’ was always one of the more potent arguments used by Brexiteers.

The Common Fisheries Policy had, undeniably, short-changed the UK fishing industry for a generation – the fishing lobby believe they were sold out by Edward Heath when he negotiated the UK’s membership terms in 1973.

Leaving the EU would give UK boats new fishing opportunities worth more than £750m, said ministers, a small amount in relative terms but a major boost for an industry bringing about £1.4 billion per year to the UK economy.

Coastal towns across the UK, and particularly in England, which are among the most run-down and deprived in the entire country, voted to leave the EU by huge majorities in June 2016.

However, there were already cries of betrayal from the fishing industry when EU and UK negotiators cut the deal, under which the UK will take back 25% of the EU’s fishing quota, as they raced to cross the finish line for a trade pact on Christmas Eve.

So the reports of fishing boats being stuck in harbour in the first weeks of the UK being outside the single market, or of seeing their catch die on the docks because of bureaucratic delays in exporting their product to the EU, is potentially a major problem for Boris Johnson’s government.

The main problem appears to be the new paperwork introduced on 1 January, including a European Health Certificate that proves that UK fish meet the EU’s regulatory standards, and which requires a government-approved vet to inspect the fish before export.

Jacob Rees Mogg’s insultingly glib retort that “they’re now British fish and they’re better and happier fish for it,” will cut little ice with businesses and communities who were promised a better and more prosperous future and are instead losing an estimated £1m per day.

In a bid to defuse the situation, ministers have already hinted that they will pay compensation to businesses affected.

But that still amounts to putting a plaster on a wound that should not have been inflicted in the first place.

Having spent years proclaiming that the fisheries sector would be reborn as a result of being outside the EU, the sight and smell of langoustines gently rotting on the docks in Scotland and Cornwall is a potent and pungent reminder that the promise of post–Brexit prosperity may turn out to be the cruellest hoax.


The Roundup

The European Commission is working on a series of key performance indicators (KPI) to include in the update of its industrial strategy expected for March, to measure the transformation of European industry and its resilience in the aftermath of the pandemic.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the Greek government’s initiative allowing vaccinated people to travel freely, and called for a mutually recognised vaccination certificate across European Union countries.

The test for the EU’s biodiversity strategy will be whether all EU legislation matches its ambition on nature protection, Green lawmakers argued in an environment committee debate about the strategy.

MEPs have been urged to consider the ‘significant risks’ that next-generation Artificial Intelligence applications could entail, particularly with regards to discrimination, employment, and social exclusion.

The European Commission said that it would not propose new laws in response to a petition demanding a protection package for national minorities that garnered 1.1 million signatures across the EU.

The EU executive looks set to press ahead with a “new approach” to genetically modified (GM) crop authorisations in the wake of persistent lack of political support for the technology in the European Parliament.

Around 20% of registrations from UK-based companies to the European Union’s REACH chemicals database have not been transferred to EU companies and will be revoked after 31 March 2021, according to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

Look out for…

  • European Parliament plenary session

Views are the author’s

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