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A fair Brexit deal for fisheries? Don’t count on it

The UK is running out of time in the Brexit negotiations and a deal by March 2019 seems increasingly unlikely. In the seafood sphere, processors, fishermen and consumers will be the ones to suffer most.

Who else is sick and tired of reading news coming out of the United Kingdom these days?

Bickering politicians are accusing each other of “power grabbing,” while Brexiteers are still gloating over their despicable “win” at the referendum in June last year. Disgruntled fishermen are urging politicians to finally take back control over UK waters in the misguided belief everything will be shiny and bright soon after.

These are the stories filling up the country’s tabloids and newspapers, making for one appalling and sensationalized headline after another.

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Step away from all this; we’re totally missing what’s important: The UK is running out of time to get a good deal for itself in the negotiations with the EU -- and that will also impact seafood as we all know.

More than four months have passed since UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50. What has been achieved since then? Nothing at all. Those four months have been a complete and utter waste of time.

The first two rounds of Brexit negotiations with the EU are done, without tangible results. UK Brexit Minister David Davis delivered somewhat vague statements over the UK's goals but there have been no serious negotiations. As a result, EU Brexit negotiators are reportedly growing increasingly irritated.

Both the government and the parliament in the UK are deeply divided and neither the ruling Tory party under May nor opposing Labour seem to have a clear vision what they want to achieve.

The next EU summit is scheduled for October and until then both the EU and Britain will have to find consensus – or at least make progress – in three key areas: the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Brits on the continent, how much Brexit will cost for the UK and what’s happening with the open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Why am I telling you this? Simply because everything else hinges on this. There won’t be any talks over a trade deal between the EU and the United Kingdom before these questions are out of the way.

Bad news you say? Yes indeed. And what about fishing access and fishing rights in each other’s waters? Talks on that are even further off and, let’s be fair, probably not very high on the government’s agenda.

May’s threat to Europe that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal,” which she made at the beginning of the year, is no longer exciting her followers either.

The potential implications of a hard Brexit are slowly dawning on even the toughest Brexiteers -- and by now we all know the devastating effect it could have on the UK’s fish and seafood industry.

A hard Brexit, or a no-deal Brexit, would mean extended fishing grounds for the UK fleet (hooray!).

But – and I’m quoting my colleague Rachel Mutter here – they “aren’t going to mean a lot when your domestic market has no desire/is too skint to buy your fish, your processor has gone bust because it has no migrant workers to do the work, and you have no access to the markets on your doorstep.”

It’s not looking good and the worst thing about this political Punch and Judy show is that we’re all going to suffer.

We’re going to suffer as consumers, as an industry, as colleagues working for the same cause and most importantly as Europeans.

Click here to see the full IntraFish coverage on Brexit.

Comments? Email me at elisabeth.fischer@intrafish.com

Twitter: EF_IntraFish

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