Face-to-face negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU resumed in Brussels yesterday. It was the first time the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, met in person since talks began in March, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both teams pledged to “intensify talks” and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a deal could be reached this month with “new momentum”.
However, after the last round of talks in early June, Mr Barnier said there had been “no significant areas of progress” on issues between the two sides – a sentiment echoed by Mr Frost.
Brussels still insists on maintaining its current fishing rights in British waters and wants London to agree to a number of EU regulations, including environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid rules.
On the other hand, Mr Johnson is demanding the right to diverge from the bloc’s rules in order to strike trade agreements around the world.
Moreover, Britons are not likely to forgive him any concessions on fishing, as since elected, Mr Johnson has promised to “get back control of our waters”.
Unearthed reports, though, show just how crucial access to UK waters is for some European countries, who, just like Britain, are ready to fight tooth and nail.
According to a throwback report by The Guardian, in 2017 officials in Copenhagen mined the archives to build a legal case that could potentially be fought in the international court of justice in The Hague.
Denmark is seeking a trade deal between the EU and the UK that recognises the right of its fleet to continue to exploit a hundred shared stocks of species such as cod, herring, mackerel, plaice and sand eel.
Some of Denmark’s coastal communities are almost entirely economically dependent on access to UK waters.
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Denmark’s former Foreign Affairs Minister, Anders Samuelsen, told the Guardian at the time that the issue was crucial to many Danish communities and that they would be making their case through Mr Barnier.
He said: “Danish fishermen have historically been fishing across the North Sea.
“The Common Fisheries Policy in the EU has regulated this, based on historical rights and preserving our common stocks that don’t follow economic zones.
“Clearly, this is very important for many fishing communities especially along the Jutland coast, and we all put our full support behind the EU’s negotiators to find the best way forward.”
Copenhagen was planning to point to the UN convention on the law of the sea, which instructs states to respect the “traditional fishing rights” of adjacent countries within sovereign waters.
The UK and Denmark are both signatories.
The so-called London convention on fisheries, which EU states including the UK and Denmark signed in 1964, also recognises historical rights of access to British waters.
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The Danish government also believed the quota system in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) provided evidence of historical rights, given they were based on traditional fishing patterns.
Niels Wichmann, the chief executive of the Danish fishermen’s association, which holds a place on the Danish ministry of food’s Brexit taskforce, also said: “We have a common sea basin where we can fish. We have always had that.
“The British claim of getting back your waters is nonsense, because you never had them. Maybe for oil or gas but not for fish.”
Mr Wichmann also claimed the EU should have threatened to block the sale of British fish on the continent unless the UK vowed to stick to the status quo on access and quota shares.
Conservative MP Peter Bone hit out at such claims, saying: “Under international law these waters are British waters. Am I sorry for Danish fishermen? Not particularly, no.
“I am actually sorry for the British fishermen who lost out when we gave our waters away so disastrously in 1973 when we joined the EU.”
The chair of the European Fisheries Alliance Gerard van Balsfoort also told the publication: “One of our big cards, to play and the Danes have it as well is to say: ‘Listen guys, we have buried our fishermen for hundreds of years in your graveyards in Scotland and England.
“‘Now you come and tell us we are not allowed to go into the herring grounds? Is that what you are trying to tell us?’”
A Government spokesman said at the time: “We recognise the importance of our fishing industry and leaving the EU is a real opportunity to review fisheries management in the UK.
“As we begin exit negotiations we will be looking closely at current international fisheries agreements in place and will be working hard to achieve the best possible deal for the whole of the UK fishing industry.”