Documents considered by the Committee on 6 March 2019 Contents

5Brexit-preparedness: Fisheries

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

(a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 as regards fishing authorisations for Union fishing vessels in United Kingdom waters and fishing operations of United Kingdom fishing vessels in Union waters; (b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 as regards certain rules relating to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund by reason of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union

Legal base

(a) Article 43(2) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV (b) Articles 42 and 43(2) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Numbers

(a) (40337), 5678/19, COM(19) 49; (b) (40338), 5668/19, COM(19) 48

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

5.1Given the continued uncertainty over UK ratification of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the European Commission published two proposals designed to mitigate the impact on the EU fisheries sector of a “no deal” Brexit scenario. The first proposal (document (a)) aims to ensure that the EU is in a position to grant UK vessels access to EU waters until the end of 2019, on the condition that EU vessels are also granted reciprocal access to UK waters. The second proposal (document (b)) would allow fishermen and operators from EU Member States to receive compensation under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for the temporary cessation of fishing activities. This would help off-set some of the impact of a sudden closure of UK waters to EU fishing vessels in a no-deal scenario.

5.2We first considered the proposals at our meeting of 13 February 201926 and raised a number of queries to which the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment (Dr Thérèse Coffey MP) has responded.27

5.3On quota allocation in the event of no deal, the Minister confirmed that the Department is still seeking cross-Government agreement to a position, insisting only that UK quota holders would be advised of their allocation for the remainder of 2019 once the UK had left the EU. She does say, however, that the priority would be to minimise disruption to businesses in the event of no deal, implying that the policy is to maintain the status quo while a new fisheries agreement is negotiated.

5.4The Minister goes on to emphasise that, post-Brexit, the UK will be bound by international obligations as an independent coastal state under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and related instruments. The Government will, she says, approach any negotiations on fishing opportunities with full respect for these international obligations and commitments to environmental sustainability.

5.5The Minister offers no comment on the risk that doubt over EU access to UK waters and vice versa could create an incentive for the industry to focus their 2019 fishing effort in the first three months of the year.

5.6Agreeing with the Committee that the EU proposal is clearly intended to apply in a situation where there is an agreement between the EU and the UK to continue to respect access and quota arrangements for the rest of 2019, the Minister emphasises that such an agreement would be a matter for negotiation. The Commission’s proposal, says the Minister, seeks to keep open the possibility of arrangements for continued shared access to UK and EU waters.

5.7On the details of the arrangements for quota swaps set out in the proposal, the Minister notes that, between 2013 and 2017, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) processed between 750 and 1,000 international quota swaps per annum between the UK and other EU Member States. 37 such swaps, comprising 88 stock transactions, have been agreed thus far this year by the MMO. The UK would, in principle, support future arrangements to provide a continued facility for such exchanges as long as there is no delay to swaps being agreed and made. The specific mechanism would be a matter for discussion with the EU.

5.8Regarding continuity on access and quota in third country waters, separate arrangements between the UK and third countries would be required in the event of a no deal exit. Initial discussions have been held with Norway and the Faroe Islands to explore how to achieve such continuity arrangements for the remainder of 2019. The UK would also need to join regional fisheries management organisations.

5.9The Minister goes on to address the Committee’s query about any UK commitment mirroring the proposed EU compensation to EU vessels for any lost fishing opportunities in the event of no deal. She points out that, on 10 December 2018, the Secretary of State announced £37.2 million of extra funding for the UK seafood sector for projects approved during 2019 and 2020 to boost the industry as the UK becomes an independent coastal state. This is in addition to the existing European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) funding, which at €243 million over seven years is broadly equivalent to £32 million a year. The Government and devolved administrations have already committed to match the EMFF funding with around £60 million, so the extra funding will support more projects and the sector will benefit from a total of £320 million.

5.10We note that cross-Government approval of a position on quota allocation in a no-deal scenario is yet to be concluded. This is despite the previously articulated position that the Government would respect the agreed 2019 fishing opportunities for the whole year even in the event of a no deal.

5.11We welcome the Minister’s assurance that, in the event of a no deal, the Government’s priority would be to minimise disruption to businesses whilst a framework agreement was negotiated with the EU. We agree with this principle, as we believe does the majority of the affected industry, and we are therefore disappointed with the uncertainty created by the ongoing lack of a Government position. This uncertainty is symbolised by the statement that UK quota holders would only be advised of their allocation for the remainder of 2019 post-Brexit. On that note, we welcome confirmation that, in the event of a no deal:

5.12While we appreciate the temptation to use fishing opportunities in UK waters as a bargaining chip in the outstanding negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, this would be an extremely risky approach on a number of levels. We re-iterate the desirability of supporting the status quo for the whole of 2019, while working with industry, other interests, Parliament, the EU and other third countries on future arrangements in line with the UK’s status as an independent coastal state.

5.13We consider that the practical reality of negotiating a well-considered revised agreement in time for implementation from 30 March is such that the most realistic outcome is in any case continuation of the status quo as proposed by the Commission, as originally proposed by the Secretary of State and as confirmed in the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum to us dated 26 November 2018.28

5.14Regarding the arrangements for access and quota in third country waters, we note that initial discussions have been held with Norway and the Faroe Islands to explore how to achieve continuity arrangements for the remainder of 2019. It is noteworthy that such “continuity” arrangements have begun with those countries, but that the UK has not even decided whether it wishes to seek continuity arrangements with the EU, let alone begin initial discussions. We ask the Minister to set out the mandate for those discussions with third countries, their format, their progress and the plans for parliamentary scrutiny of any ensuing agreements.

5.15We ask that, by midday on 12 March 2019, the Government update us on its position, responding to the above queries in full. No extension of this deadline will be permitted. The document remains under scrutiny and we draw this chapter to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

(a) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 as regards fishing authorisations for Union fishing vessels in United Kingdom waters and fishing operations of United Kingdom fishing vessels in Union waters: (40337), 5678/19, COM(19) 49; (b) Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 as regards certain rules relating to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund by reason of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union: (40338), 5668/19, COM(19) 48.

Previous Committee Reports

Fifty-fifth Report HC 301–liv (2017–19), chapter 3 (13 February 2019).


26 Fifty-fifth Report HC 301–liv (2017–19), chapter 3 (13 February 2019).

27 Letter from Dr Thérèse Coffey MP to Sir William Cash MP dated 4 March 2019.

28 Paragraph 11, Explanatory Memorandum dated 26 November 2018 on Council document 13731/18 (Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2019 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and, for Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters).




Published: 12 March 2019