After progress has been made on the other sticking points to a Brexit trade deal one issue still remains: fishing. Initially it seemed that fishing was scattered into the other end-game obstacles of the role of the European Court of Justice and the level playing field (state aid) in order to endow the UK’s negators with an easy concession to secure something more meaningful in return. On this, the first day of December, with the transition period ending in only a few hours more than 30 days, that idea is starting to fade. Fishing is, as we have mentioned previously and is often popularly citied, only worth 0.1% of GDP. Following the Chancellor’s economic forecasts and spending pledges last week we now know a no-deal exit from the EU is expected to cost the UK economy 2% of GDP (£43.4bn). So why are we playing this dangerous game?
Until relatively recently the EU was, by many standards, a weak institution, hardly worth its salt by international standards. It started as an agreement in coal and steel production to stop the likes of Germany and France pointing heavy ammunition towards each other again and, for that matter, any of the other five nations that had signed up to the deal! Skip forward 10 years and it’s changed name to the European Economic Community and managed to expand its reach to cover agriculture and afforded itself a small budget to achieve its aims.
Ten years later and we reach the problem. It’s now 1970, only a few years ahead of the first enlargement round that would see this club grow and include the UK, Denmark and Northern Ireland. The latest leap forward in common policy is the Common Fisheries Policy. One thing that is apparent about the EU is that it is never revolutionised. Changes in policy, membership, scope, even budget always build upon each other, and seemingly never give way to one another. What that means is that these founding initiatives within the European Economic Community, now European Union, remain. The rules and treaties of the European Union act like a giant rubber band ball with the newest layers visible upon the surface, constraining but too relying upon its unchanged and aging, in this case fishy, core.
Today’s Union still keeps fisheries at its heart with the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy still preeminent parts of the Union. Despite the entire industry being worth only 1% of GDP on the other side of the English Channel too, it is of more significant symbolic and systemic policy to the supranational body, the EU. UK negotiators would be well minded to remember that Europhilic negotiators and signatories in the European Council are unlikely to change tact with respect to fishing.
The campaigns in 2016 were to take back control. I understand that this demand from the Vote Leave campaign and public alike was to take control of our laws, of immigration and our politics, not fish. The government may therefore have done a disservice to themselves by allowing access to UK fishing waters to become so politicised. The UK electorate will be able to take the standoff on fishing in one of two ways: either in accordance with the government, these are British fish back off, or with resentment for fostering economic uncertainty over a minor issue. Whilst public opinion for now is unlikely to shape the course of negotiations it will have an impact on the stability and efficacy of the incumbent government irrespective of our trading relationship with the EU come next year. With all the white noise emanating from Brexit negotiations perhaps it is still a tradeable concession that has masqueraded fishing as a serious issue when really it remains a negotiating chip for a last minute endowment to the deal: a Trojan Sole if you will.
Discussion and Analysis by Charles Porter