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Will There Be A Fisheries Brexit Deal?

“The fisheries element of the Brexit negotiations is going to get very difficult,” the Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, admitted in the Dáil this week. He was responding to increasing concern that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is attempting to exclude fisheries from any trade deal with the European Union. This was raised by Pearse Doherty, Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein and Brendan Howlin, former Labour Party Leader.

Mr. Doherty referred to “reports that Michel Barnier of the EU Commission's Task Force was prepared to accede to British demands on fisheries against the mandate given to him by member states in the interests of the Irish fishing sector.”

There have also been reports that political requirements to deliver on promises made to areas where the UK Conservative government wants to maximise electoral advantage could be a motivating force.

Referring to these reports, Deputy Howlin said that it had “always been understood that fisheries was to be an integrated part of the trade discussions, not a separate part of it. The hardline taken by the United Kingdom in regard to fisheries is obviously for ideological reasons because fisheries is 0.1% of the UK economy. This is part of its rhetoric of taking back control, so it is ideological.”

Tanaiste Simon Coveney said he understands the concerns in the fishery sector, but had a different view on the work Michel Barnier: “He has a very clear mandate regarding the fisheries sector that there will not be a trade deal between the EU and the UK without a deal on fishing. This does not mean that the outcome for fishing is predetermined; of course it is not. The UK position on fishing is very different from what the EU is looking for. That is why we need fishing negotiated in the context of a trade deal. We are seeking to protect the interests of the Irish fleet in terms of both access and the quota share it currently enjoys in British waters. The fisheries element is going to get very difficult. We need to keep our fishing fleet informed and, if necessary, supported with assistance packages as we await what we hope will be a fair outcome for all sides in terms of the fisheries element of a Brexit deal at some point in the autumn.”

There are indications also that negotiations have gone backwards and there is a degree of uncertainty about whether the EU Task Force would use fisheries as a bargaining chip in overall negotiations.