Boris Johnson ‘failed fishing like Ted Heath’ as PM ‘sacrificed UK waters’

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The Prime Minister’s lack of action to protect UK fishing was similar to that of his predecessor who took Britain into what was then the European Economic Community (EEC), was told. Mr Heath, who led the country with the Conservatives from 1970 to 1974, “traded” fishing waters for Europe’s “shiny new” common marketplace, Barrie Deas, Chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) said. Many have pinpointed his signing the Treaty of Accession in 1972 as the root of fishing’s troubles.

Drawing a parallel between the state of the industry then and now, Mr Deas said Mr Johnson’s failure mirrored that of Mr Heath’s, and that the Government have been responsible for the crises in industry.

When asked who was at fault for the current situation, he said: “It’s the top of government: the decision was made to sacrifice fishing in order to secure a trade deal.

“That lies within Boris Johnson’s hands and his top advisors.

“What we found difficult to accept was that the Prime Minister and the senior cabinet officials, including the chief negotiator, had all provided assurances that fishing wouldn’t be sacrificed in the same way that it was in 1973 for other national objectives – that in some ways it had a special status.

“The phrase that was used by one of the advisers was that fishing had a ‘philosophical level of protection’ – meaning it wasn’t just another service that was affected by Brexit.

“They said it had been tied into an asymmetric and exploitative relationship with the EU right from the outset, and that here was an opportunity to break free of it.

“Of course, that didn’t prove to be the case.”

When the UK and other nations like Denmark, Norway and Ireland, contemplated EEC membership in the early Seventies, fears of a “gold rush” of their waters followed.

The Norwegian public voted against the idea partly over this issue.

While many in the UK were concerned, Mr Heath’s critics say he got around popular resistance to the “uncertain” and “faulty” Government line on fishing by lying.

A 1971 White Paper stated that Britain would seek changes to the European fishing policy.

Yet, behind closed doors, the UK’s head of negotiations gave way – but the House of Commons was “reassured that nothing substantive or long-term had been surrendered” according to The Daily Telegraph.

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The effects of the decision are striking: in 1970, the total number of fishermen in the UK was around 21,000; today it’s about 12,000.

In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea introduced the creation of “exclusive economic zones” (EEZ).

They gave each sovereign nation the right to own all the resources that existed within the seas that surrounded them.

However, as according to the details of joining up to the EEC ten years previous, the UK had agreed to a policy of sharing access to its waters with all member states.

The new law essentially gave the EEC one giant EEZ.


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In 1983, when the Common Fisheries Policy was adopted, it introduced the management of European waters by giving each state a quota for what it could catch.

This was based on a predetermined percentage of total fishing opportunities.

The formula – “relative stability” – was based on each country’s historic fishing activity before 1983, and was one of the most contentious parts of the policy for the UK.

It saw foreign vessels increase their fishing activity in UK waters in order to secure a larger share of these fish in perpetuity.

While fishing had its biggest political coverage in decades under Mr Johnson’s push for a Brexit deal, he came back empty-handed in the eyes of the industry.

The Prime Minister agreed to a five-and-a-half year adjustment period where 25 percent of EU boats’ rights will be transferred over to the UK ahead of more negotiations on quotas.

He has since promised to get British fishermen ready for “El Dorado” by 2026.

Many fear that it could turn into Mr Heath’s “10-year Derogation” promise which failed.

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