Boris Johnson must stand firm over Brexit and fishing – Andrew Vine

IT’S really no surprise that, in the end, the final negotiations over a Brexit deal have come down to an acrimonious blame game.

Boris Johnson as Brexit talks go down to the wire.

Rancour and mutual suspicion have characterised the relationship between Britain and the EU ever since the people of this country voted to leave four and a half years ago.

However much both sides protested that they wanted to forge a new and amicable relationship, the likelihood of that happening without an almighty bust-up was always going to be remote.

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And so it has proved, with them coming to the end-game full of accusations of bad faith, and reports of shouting matches between stressed officials in the corridors outside the negotiating room.

What will be the impact of brexit on the fishing industry?

But at this last gasp, the Government is right to dig its heels in and face down the EU over getting a deal that is in Britain’s best interests.

And if that means ruffling feathers in other EU capitals, so be it. It won’t be a terminal falling-out because that’s in nobody’s best interests.

Whether one backed Brexit in 2016, or considered it a huge mistake, our country voted to leave and subsequently gave Boris Johnson a clear mandate to do so on the most favourable terms. No ifs, no buts.

A deal would probably have been done much more easily had it not been for the posturing of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and his demand that Britain gives up a huge proportion of its fishing rights to European boats.

Brexit continues to divide political and public opinion.

Sorry, but no. It would be a complete nonsense for a sovereign island nation to cede control of its territorial waters, especially when foreign competition has done so much harm to Britain’s fishing fleet, not least on Yorkshire’s coastline.

Those with longer memories will recall how our herring fishing fleet was wiped out by foreign factory-ships over the course of 20 years.

Careful stewardship of the fishing grounds by the boats of Whitby and Scarborough over generations was undermined by unfair competition from abroad, and by the 1970s herring stocks had been destroyed, never to recover.

Talk to any fisherman between the Humber and the Tees and their frustration over what they are allowed to catch under EU regulations knows no bounds. They rightly expected that any Brexit deal would put their livelihoods ahead of those of European fleets.

Mr Macron’s throwing of a spanner 
in the works is all about his own political unpopularity at home, where he faces 
an election in less than two years and every possibility of being booted from office.

Hard luck Mr President, but that’s your problem, not ours. Britain can’t let it get in the way of holding out for a deal that puts our nation first, especially against the backdrop of the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

Nor is it our problem if Britain’s departure from the EU sparks restlessness in other member states and calls for referenda on membership.

The Prime Minister is also right to dig his heels in over attempts to bind Britain’s hands with red tape in following EU rules. Having taken the decision to go it alone, we must be free to trade as the Government and the business community thinks fit.

Amid her agonies at trying to get a trade deal through the Commons, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, but there are many who would take issue with that, not least farmers who potentially face being driven out of business by punitive tariffs on their exports.

But the prospect of no deal also strikes fear into the hearts of other countries, especially Ireland, who would much rather avoid it, however shrill Mr Macron is in trumpeting the EU’s willingness to walk away from negotiations.

Everybody around the table knows that everybody benefits from a deal. It would take a foolhardy EU leader to insist on a position that potentially damages their economy or puts jobs at greater risk than they already are.

Whatever acrimony there has been, it is unlikely to sour long-term relations between Britain and our European neighbours. After all, beyond trade, we remain allies and friends, working together on crime, defence and immigration. Once the heat of the negotiations is past, there will be summits to be held and further agreements to be made.

There is tacit understanding on all sides that there must be an amicable and mutually beneficial trading relationship.

That is the only way ahead and Brexit doesn’t change the fact that Britain and the EU need each other just as much now as they have for the past 40 years.

In time, today’s shouting matches around the negotiating table will have been forgotten, and every country across Europe, including us, will be getting on with doing business with each other.

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