The Secretary of State made fisheries the poster child for the leave campaign, and a number of promises were made to the fishing industry and coastal communities about what Brexit would mean for them. So far, he has categorically failed to deliver, and there are fears that this White Paper is just more of the same. There is a huge gap between his vision and what he actually ends up delivering. Promises made about taking back control of waters during transition will not be delivered, despite what Ministers said right up to the point of their U-turn. This went against assurances the Secretary of State gave to this House and to coastal communities to take back absolute control of waters on day one, and he went on to assess his own performance as delivering a “sub-optimal outcome” for the fishing industry.
This White Paper is full of optimism for the negotiations, but the only deal so far agreed on fishing is that we will keep EU fishing policies during the transition period. We are not holding our breath that this will all go according to plan. Future customs arrangements will be key to the fishing industry but, given reports that the Secretary of State physically ripped up the Prime Minister’s preferred customs option, it is clear that the big decisions for the negotiations, including those on fishing, are a long way from being agreed. Some 70% of what we catch we export, and 80% of the fish we eat, we import. Why should the fishing industry believe his rhetoric today when fundamental questions on customs go unanswered? Trade and access are entirely separate issues according to the White Paper. So far, nothing about the EU’s negotiating position says this will work, so how realistic does he think this position is?
I welcome the commitment to be environmentally ambitious. In that case, will the Secretary of State support Labour’s proposals for national marine parks? I also welcome his commitment to collaboration with the devolved Administrations. What clarity can he give on the future fisheries workforce, including EU workers, who are so vital for the catching sector? Will every penny of European maritime and fisheries fund be replaced, and what is the mechanism for delivering that? Will the Treasury be taking a slice, as it plans to do for agricultural subsidies?
The White Paper talks warmly about the coastal communities fund, but a recent parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend Holly Lynch revealed that only about 6% of the fund has been awarded to the fishing sector to date. If the Government really think fishing is the lifeblood of coastal communities, why are they not backing this up with the funding that the industry desperately needs? We do not have to wait until Brexit to give the small businesses that are the backbone of our fishing sector a better deal. The Secretary of State has powers today to adjust quotas and to help, especially, the under-10 fleet. So will he make a commitment today not to wait until Brexit to do the right thing and help those boats?
There is no point in catching more fish if it is going to rot at our border, awaiting export, trying to reach markets. Fishing communities such as those I represent need a fairer deal for the catching and processing sectors, which are the backbone of our local economies and which drive economic regeneration in our coastal towns. If the Secretary of State thinks he can avoid scrutiny on the promises made to the fishing sector in the past, he is sadly mistaken. Warm soundbites do not reassure coastal communities. I assure the Secretary of State that Labour will be holding his feet to the fire to ensure that the promises that he makes today are delivered.