Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ceisteanna (4)

Michael Collins


4. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the joint British and EU position is that sea fisheries are to be dealt with separately from trade in accordance with the wording of Article 6, paragraph 1, of the withdrawal agreement (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51347/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In the light of Brexit negotiations, I seek clarity on a number of issues related to Irish fishermen's rights. Will the Minister confirm that the joint British and EU position is that sea fisheries are to be dealt with separately from trade in accordance with the wording of Article 6, paragraph 1, of the withdrawal agreement?

If I am correct, the wording of Article 6 of the withdrawal agreement ensures that fisheries are excluded from trade negotiations and unless an agreement is reached on or before July 2020 on the specific issues of fisheries, all the UK rights and entitlements within UK waters will revert to the UK in full.

The withdrawal agreement provides for a transition period during which there will be absolutely no change to existing fishing rights of access or quota shares. The transition period will last until the end of December 2020 but could be extended. During the transition period, there will be negotiations on an overall future relationship agreement and fisheries will be part of those negotiations. If those overall negotiations are not concluded in time then a decision will have to be made in July 2020 either to extend the transition period or apply the UK-wide customs provisions. In the latter scenario, in accordance with Article 6 of the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement, seafood products will be excluded if no agreement on access and shares has been reached in the interim. This means that UK exports of seafood products to the EU would be subject to tariffs in the absence of a new fisheries agreement.

Negotiations on a fisheries agreement will, as is set down in the political declaration, take place in the context of the overall future economic relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. In other words, fisheries will not be dealt with in isolation.

It is my belief that the terms of the political declaration made on 22 November this year are not binding on either the UK or the EU. Specifically, I believe that the wording in section XII, Fishing Opportunities, makes it very clear that what is set out in paragraphs 73, 74, 75 and 76 is aspirational and is legally binding on neither party. This causes serious worries for all Irish fishermen who currently are almost strangers in their own waters. Given the importance of Brexit to every single sector in Irish society, our fishing industry has serious and legitimate concerns. In order to prepare for the many challenges Brexit could bring, each fisherman needs to know the up-to-date position.

Since 23 June 2016, and even before that, we have been working closely with the fishing industry and with other member states across Europe which are impacted by Brexit, in particular those who are fishing in UK waters and face the prospect of losing access and quota shares in certain circumstances under which the UK may depart the European Union. We have successfully built an alliance of like-minded member states which is mirrored by a similar alliance of industry in those member states. Through the Barnier task force, we have successfully prosecuted a view that is reflected in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. In other words, the political declaration carefully articulates the view that continued access and quota share are things to be dealt with in the context of the overall trade agreement. The UK has asks, which are myriad and relate to the passporting of financial services, aviation and other things, while we have specific asks in regard to fisheries. They will be interrelated in the future relationship and this view is shared by the industry.

Irish fishermen who fish in Irish waters are far outnumbered by foreign vessels. They have seen the opportunities for fishing diminish in recent years and the disappointment they feel is also felt by inshore fishermen, who are also struggling. It is incredibly frustrating that Irish fishermen cannot get bluefin quota when their fellow Europeans have received it. There is a strong feeling that Irish fishermen are the poor relations in Irish politics and that these Brexit negotiations are proof of this. They need continued access to quota going forward.

I am acutely conscious of the needs and asks of the industry and I have worked closely with its representatives. The industry has spoken on the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration and it acknowledges that they achieve all the objectives we have set in the context of the Brexit negotiations to date.