Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken out today against the risk to fishermen from the government’s dispute with France over access for a small number of boats in the English Channel. In response to French boats being denied access to UK waters, the French government has threatened actions including a prohibition of British fishing vessels landing at French ports, reinforcement of customs and sanitary controls, systematic security checks of British boats, and reinforcement of controls on lorries to and from the UK, which would have a serious impact on exporters passing through France.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“The next few weeks are going to be absolutely critical for fishing exporters in this country. If the French do what they are threatening, then in fact they risk damaging the confidence in supply for this country. The minister has given the number of licenses he has issued. He should also be aware that a number of these are for supertrawlers, that he has given away access to non-quota species without limit, and that this is on top of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement which allowed access to the six- and twelve-mile limit which is not what was promised.
“If he has given all this away, why is he risking this over such a small number of small boats which he must have known would struggle to get the data to justify their access?”
Responding, the DEFRA Secretary George Eustice said:
“I think what he is saying in a nutshell is ‘Shouldn’t we just roll over and accept these vessels even though they don’t qualify?’
“There were very clear terms in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Any vessel that qualifies has been granted access, and that includes many vessels, close to 1,700 in our Exclusive Economic Zone, but I don’t agree that we should just let these people in for an easy life. The reality is that these vessels didn’t have a track record in our waters. It isn’t just about data. Because the French were struggling to provide the data, the UK government bought AIS data for some of the French vessels so that we could understand their data better.
“We have tried to be as helpful as we can in providing that data but if they are unable to provide that data then you have to assume that they probably did not have access previously.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“The minister is missing the point. His Conservative government already sold the farm – and the fish – in its negotiations with the EU. They crossed every red line the fishing industry had on access and on quota, and broke every promise they had made to fishermen. They are happy to pick symbolic fights but do nothing on the substance.
“Having given so much away it is hard to see why the minister is now putting our industry’s ability to trade and export at risk for the sake of a handful of tiny French fishing boats in the Channel. We are heading into a critical period for fishing as winter approaches – now is not the time for petty fights.”