Britain refuses to back down on fisheries demand as Brexit deadline looms

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says the UK must be ‘an independent coastal state’

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, wearing an EU flag-themed facemask due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaves the conference centre in London on October 28, 2020 to return to his hotel as he attends the latest round of Brexit trade talks with the UK.  Britain and the European Union launched an all-out round of Brexit talks vowing to work round the clock to seal a trade deal in the slender time left. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS

Britain’s Conservative government will not back down on its post-Brexit demands to the European Union over fisheries, a senior minister said, as negotiations continue with Brussels over a trade deal.

The issue of fishing is one of the most politically controversial elements of a potential UK-EU deal, despite it having comparatively minimal economic significance.

When it was a member of the EU, the UK was a part of the Common Fisheries Policy, which divided up its waters among European countries down historical lines. In leaving the bloc, the UK wants to regain control of its fisheries.

But French boats have fished in British waters for centuries and they rely on the catches they make there.

Responding to concerns from an official in the devolved Welsh government, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove reiterated the hard-line approach.

“With regards to fisheries, I am afraid we strongly disagree with your premise that we should ‘back down’ on fisheries. The UK Government’s view is that in all circumstances, the UK must be an independent coastal state, and no longer be bound by the Common Fisheries Policy,” Mr Gove wrote in a letter dated October 26 but published on October 28.

“Our position is reasonable and seeks the best outcome for the whole UK, informed by discussions with the Welsh Government and other devolved administrations on fisheries priorities.

“We seek a separate fisheries framework agreement which reflects our international law rights and is based on the scientific principle of zonal attachment. This is squarely in line with the precedent of the EU’s fisheries agreement with Norway,” he said.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier resumed trade talks in London on Monday as the two sides try to strike a last-minute trade agreement less than 10 weeks before a transition period ends.

Mr Barnier and his EU team will be in London until Wednesday, after which talks will switch to Brussels and continue through the weekend.