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Fisheries Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th November 2019.

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Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am very sorry, but I want to cover more points.

Both John Finnie and Claudia Beamish made a great number of points about—broadly speaking—sustainability and conservation. I have three points to make. First, the principles that we adopt in our approach to negotiations include sustainability of stocks. Nobody loses more than fishermen if fish stocks are fished out: nobody is a greater loser than the fishermen of future generations. That is one of the four guiding principles that govern our negotiations.

Secondly, I mentioned that the non-governmental organisations support the position that we adopted in our negotiation stance at the fisheries management and conservation group meeting on 11 November. That was a first, and it is a good thing, which shows that the approach that we are taking is sustainable.

Finally, I am happy to have a further discussion, if John Finnie wishes, about wrasse. I do not have time now, but I am aware of the RECC Committee report, and we take the concerns very seriously. That conversation is not for today, but I am happy to meet him about that if he wishes.

I think that it was Angus MacDonald who referred to Bertie Armstrong. I, too, respected Bertie’s service and leadership over a long period. We disagreed, but we did so without rancour. I am working very closely with his successor, Elspeth Macdonald, who is an excellent ambassadress for, and leader of, the SFF. It is right and proper that we work closely with that organisation.

My main task is to secure the best deal in the negotiations. The point that I made about leading the British delegation was serious; it was not meant to be provocative or frivolous. It might well be that in the immediate aftermath of the general election—I think that the meeting is two business days afterwards—the British Government will not have been formed. However, we are here: we are continuity. I have been there and done it, and we stand ready to take on the responsibility. It is a matter for agreement by the UK Government, but the offer will be made.

In an act of kindness, I suggest to the Conservatives that there is a fundamental flaw in their message to the fishing community. It is really very simple: they are promising the earth, the moon and the stars to fishermen in Scotland—that is how it is perceived—and they have been doing it for three years now, every day, every week, in every speech and in every debate. However, what has the Prime Minister negotiated? He has negotiated a withdrawal agreement, but what does it say about fishing? Where is the deal? All it is is an agreement to try to agree something in the future.

I am a lawyer, so I can say without fear of contradiction that an agreement to try to agree something is not a contract and is not a legally binding agreement. There ain’t one, but today the Tories have presented the withdrawal agreement as delivering enormous benefits, as a done deal, and as a contract that is binding on both the UK and the EU. [Interruption.] The Tories do not like this, but there is a lot more, so they should listen.

In the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister negotiated, there is no deal; there is only an intention to seek a deal. Not only is the deal not done, it ain’t yet begun. Where in the withdrawal agreement does it say that the EU will yield one tonne of quota? Where in the withdrawal agreement does it say that any EU countries will cease to argue determinedly for access? Nowhere in the deal does it say those things.

The reason is very simple: the UK Government knew fine well that it would be utterly impossible for it to negotiate the deal that is has promised fishing communities in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. The negotiations on a fishing deal have been caught up in the trade deal, and once that happens and the two become concurrent, there will be tremendous pressure on the UK Government to do a deal on trade by yielding on fish. Fish will be snagged and enmeshed in a post-Brexit net of the UK Government’s own making.

To assert that the deed is done and that the promises will be delivered is an exaggeration of Trumpian proportions. It is propaganda that will come back to haunt the Conservatives. At a time when Britain needed, in negotiating terms, a Metternich, it has instead ended up with someone who is like Inspector Clouseau. Believe you me—the Conservatives will repent at leisure in the months to come.