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The British and European negotiating teams are holding more talks in Brussels this week as they attempt to strike a post-Brexit trade deal. While the discussions have made little progress so far, the two sides appear more willing to compromise this time. According to Brussels sources, the UK has offered a three-year transition period for European fishing fleets to allow them to prepare for the post-Brexit changes as part of an 11th-hour deal sweetener.
The catches of EU fishermen would be “phased down” between 2021 and 2024 to offer time for European coastal communities to adapt to the changes.
The idea of a phase-down period had been floated previously but details had not been provided until recent days.
However, the news immediately angered the British fishing industry, with the head of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations warning that anything which smacked of “Common Fisheries Policy-lite” would be “unacceptable”.
In a letter to the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, the head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), Elspeth Macdonald, added it was “imperative at this crucial stage that the UK remains steadfast”, noting: “Anything given away now will never be regained.”
Britons are not likely to forgive the former Mayor of London any concessions on the matter.
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was a central part in the Brexit campaign and the majority of British fishermen and people living in coastal towns pushed for Britain to leave the bloc.
British fishermen believe UK waters are not only overfished by other EU countries but that the CFP also means they are restricted as to how much they can fish.
According to a newly resurfaced Brussels position paper, in 2009, the European Commission admitted the CFP had been a complete failure and urged a rethink, prompting British politicians to call for its scrapping.
EU officials were forced to confess that 88 percent of European fish stocks were overfished, compared to 25 percent elsewhere in the world.
Joe Borg, the European Fisheries Commissioner, said at the time: “We are questioning even the fundamentals of the current policy.
“We are not just looking for another reform – it is time to design a modern, simple and sustainable system for managing fisheries in the EU.”
Struan Stevenson, a former Scottish Conservative MEP and Fisheries Spokesman in the European Parliament, called for fishing policy to be decentralised.
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Highlighting the figures, which showed that British fishermen saw 60 percent of their whitefish fleet scrapped and thousands of jobs destroyed, Mr Stevenson said: “This paper represents the most dramatic overhaul of fisheries management since the CFP was born and is a clear indication that the Commission now accepts that micro-management by eurocrats in Brussels has failed.”
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage also commented on the “shocking” paper, saying: “It is time to scrap the CFP in its entirety and look to successful national fisheries policies like Iceland and Norway.”
In February 2013 the European Parliament finally voted for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which included measures to protect endangered stocks and the ending of discards.
However, the reforms were hard to implement and they only came into effect in January 2019.
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