Fishy business: Why access to UK waters is red herring in Brexit talks

Fishing boats moored in Brixham harbor in Devon, England | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Fishy business: Why access to UK waters is red herring in Brexit talks

The EU is making a big bet by pinning its trade hopes on the tiny fishing sector.


1/22/20, 3:35 PM CET

Updated 1/22/20, 4:44 PM CET

This article is part of POLITICO’s Westminster Survival Guide.

Europe’s small fishing sector is making a big splash in Brexit negotiations.

The fishing industry, together with agriculture and forestry, accounts for just 1.6 percent of the total goods and services produced in the Europe Union every year. And yet, despite the fact that it’s such a tiny economic sector, officials in Brussels have made reaching a deal on fisheries conditional to the future relations between the two sides.

For the European Union, the fear is that not reaching a deal that favors its fishermen would devastate coastal countries that deeply depend on access to British waters. The Commission, therefore, declared during a briefing with EU diplomats last week that there must be a “direct link” between trade negotiations and fisheries talks.

The U.K., meanwhile, has turned the issue into one of national sovereignty — a symbolic way for the country to assert its new independence from the bloc its people voted to leave.

In short, the EU27 wants to retain the same access its fishermen have now, while the U.K. wants to be treated like any other non-EU country.

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