Leaving the European Union will provide new opportunities for the UK fishing industry, including in Northern Ireland. On leaving the EU, we will become an independent coastal state controlling access to our own exclusive economic zone, and the fisheries Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last year will introduce the powers necessary to do this.
I thank the Minister for that response. For the fishing sector, it is important that fishing our own waters will take place. As he will know, the voisinage agreement continues to be an obstacle to that happening, so will he update us on what is happening in relation to that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The voisinage agreement gives Northern Ireland vessels and Irish Republic vessels access to one another’s waters, and it predates the existence of the EU. Following a decision by Ireland’s Supreme Court, its side of this has been suspended, pending further legislation. We intend to put further pressure on the Irish Government to raise this issue to ensure that they act on the undertaking they have given to re-establish their side of this agreement.
Yes, I can confirm that we do. We have been working in regional groups on the discards plan, looking at ways to deal with the problem of choke species. In the past week, I have written to Commissioner Vella with some suggestions on how we can adopt the right approach to deal with choke species, particularly hake in the North sea and haddock in the Celtic sea. I assure my hon. Friend that we are still working on these issues.
Given that unfortunately fishermen’s rights have been traded away during the transition period, is not the best way to guarantee that we regain full control of the exclusive economic zone after Brexit to rejoin the European economic area and the European Free Trade Association?
Fishing has not been traded away in the transition agreement. We have made it clear in that agreement that nothing will change for the time-limited period until the end of December 2020, but we will negotiate as an independent coastal state in that year, 2020, for fishing opportunities in 2021.
I know that the Scottish industry has raised the issue of labour, and its representatives recently met the relevant Home Office Minister. The Migration Advisory Committee is looking into the whole issue of our labour and migration needs after we leave the European Union, and representations have been made to the Home Office on the issue.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Government Members are clear that we should leave the European Union and that there are opportunities for our fishing industry. The disaster for the Scottish fishing industry would be if we were not to deliver Brexit and leave the European Union, thereby throwing away those opportunities.