171.As the EU Select Committee has noted, the formal negotiations under Article 50 TEU will focus on reaching a withdrawal agreement, in the process resolving such issues as budget contributions and the rights of UK and EU nationals, while taking into account the “framework” for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. The potential scope of this framework is not defined, but it could in principle be wide-ranging. This suggests that disentangling fisheries policy from the EU, insofar as it features in the Article 50 negotiations, will be only one of many complex issues being discussed by the UK and the EU.
172.Though the referendum campaign has raised the profile of fisheries, and despite the potential for negotiating new quota allocations for shared stocks and restricting the access that foreign vessels enjoy to fishing in the UK EEZ, we heard concern that the potential benefits to the sector would not be realised. Mr Armstrong told us that the industry was “scared stiff” of being neglected or given up as a bargaining chip in the wider Brexit negotiations. The Angling Trust agreed: “There is very real concern that fisheries will be used as a pawn in negotiations with the EU and will be used to satisfy successful negotiations in other, more important, policy areas.” The Minister, however, gave some assurances when he told us that “we recognise the importance of this industry and are working across government to ensure that is recognised as part of the negotiations”.
173.As we have already noted, industry representatives told us that the option of withholding access to the UK EEZ would be a powerful lever in future negotiations over quota shares. Yet such leverage may have to be balanced against other policy areas, particularly trade, where the UK may be more vulnerable. Dr Appleby outlined the concern: “It is difficult to foresee a situation where the French, Dutch and Spanish sit back and blithely accept the UK removing foreign vessels from UK waters without punishing the UK elsewhere in the mammoth Brexit negotiations.”
174.The Minister acknowledged the sensitivity of the wider negotiations:
“Do you … kick the table over and upset everyone? Probably not. I think our European partners have a right to expect us to behave in an honourable and constructive way with them in subsequent negotiations … and we will behave, as we do as a country, in an honourable and constructive way towards agreement.”
The Minister added that he expected the EU to engage with the UK on the same terms. We welcome this balanced approach.
175.The vote to leave the European Union, and with it the Common Fisheries Policy, has raised expectations for the future of fisheries policy that may be hard to deliver. In withdrawing from the EU, the UK will be able to develop a domestic fisheries policy and control fishing activity within its EEZ. However, the majority of commercial fish stocks in UK waters are shared with other states, rendering continued co-operation with the EU and other neighbouring states crucial to the sustainability of those stocks.
176.The fishing industry contributes a small proportion of the UK GDP compared to other sections of the UK economy, but has significant social, cultural and economic value for coastal communities across the United Kingdom. Therefore it must not be marginalised in the wider Brexit negotiations.
177.The UK will be able to negotiate new quota shares and to withhold access to fishing in UK waters as a bargaining tool for achieving increased allocations. Yet the Government may come under pressure to balance this potential against the need for continued trade in fish with the EU, while also seeking to develop new frameworks for managing a shared and vulnerable resource. The Government faces a huge challenge in seeking to achieve a successful outcome to these negotiations.
292 See European Union Committee, (4th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 50), Chapter 5
293 Written evidence from the NEF (); (Dr Bryce Stewart)
295 Written evidence from the Angling Trust ()
297 Written evidence from Fishing for Leave (); (Bertie Armstrong)
298 Written evidence from Dr Thomas Appleby ()