Fishing row explained: Who is REALLY in the right as France-UK spat rages on?

France fishing row: GB news’ Simon McCoy discusses dispute

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The UK celebrated in January 2020 as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was struck, and again on Christmas eve as the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was hammered out at the eleventh hour. Provisions on fishing were included in both deals, but the issue is clearly far from resolved, with tensions between France and the UK ramping up significantly in recent weeks.

So who is in the right here?

The problem is, essentially, that both France and Britain have different interpretations of the rules set out in the TCA.

Both the TCA and the Withdrawal Agreement left a lot of details unspecified, with the idea being that Britain and the EU would spend the next five years figuring out all the details before the end of the “adjustment period” on June 30, 2026.

But this is evidently going to be easier said than done, with both sides arguing wildly different interpretations of the same deal.

The text of the Brexit deal ends the Granville Bay agreement between the UK and the Channel Islands, which set rights for French boats fishing in the waters off of Jersey and Guernsey.

The agreement states that French fishers are still allowed to operate in the Channel Island’s waters, as long as they can prove they had fished there before the deal was struck.

But this is where the problem comes in: it doesn’t say what evidence is actually needed to prove they had previously fished there.

The UK says it wants positional data – like GPS – as well as a record of the catches in its waters.

The French, however, say they have meticulously kept paper logbooks of all fishing activity which prove they fished in UK waters before Brexit, and many small boats don’t carry GPS so are unable to provide positional data.

But isn’t the EU meant to leave UK waters entirely?

The Brexit deal sets out that EU boats can continue to fish in UK waters for years to come, but that UK fishing boats will get a greater share of fish from its waters.

Over the five-year adjustment period, 25 percent of EU boats’ fishing rights will slowly be transferred over to UK fleets.

The EU fishing quota, which is the amount of fish that EU boats are allowed to catch in UK waters, will be reduced by 15 percent in the first year and 2.5 percentage points each year after.

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By 2026, it’s estimated that UK boats will have access to an extra £145m of fishing quota every year.

After that, there’ll be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out between the UK and EU – so we can expect these fraught negotiations to continue for many years to come.

However, at that point, the UK will have the right to completely withdraw EU boats’ access to British waters.

But then in turn the EU could suspend access to its waters for UK boats or impose tariffs on fish exports from the UK to the EU, as the tit-for-tat continues.

Why is fishing so important?

Fishing represents just a tiny fraction of the GDP of both the UK and EU.

According to the Office for National Statistics, fishing was worth £437m to the UK economy in 2019 – by comparison, the financial services industry was worth £126bn.

But this isn’t an issue of value, it’s more symbolic than that, acting as a micro-example of all the things still unresolved within the Brexit deal.

Both sides fear if they let the other win it will set a precedent for other post-Brexit disputes, so it’s safe to expect many years of both the UK and EU digging their heels in when it comes to fish.

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