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UK could surrender control over Channel Islands’ fishing in bid to pass Brexit deal

The dispute over fishing rights after Brexit is one of the remaining issues preventing the UK and EU from signing a deal, which must be finalised before the end of the transition period – AFP/Shutterstock

Britain could surrender control over fishing waters around the Channel Islands in an attempt to resolve a key dispute in Brexit negotiations with the European Union, it has been claimed.

The EU has floated the possibility of instating different fishing rights around the Channel Islands to those around the UK, allowing more access for French and Dutch vessels, the Telegraph understands.

The proposal would likely involve less EU access to the Channel Islands’ waters than it currently has, but more than if Britain had sole control.

Government sources on Wednesday insisted there would be “no departure from our fundamental position that we will have control of our waters around there [the Channel Islands].”

Jersey and Guernsey are not part of the United Kingdom, although defence of the islands and most foreign relations are handled by the British Government. It is understood that the dependencies could make their own decision on the issue if they saw fit.

The latest proposal is one of various suggestions to unlock discussions on fishing rights after Brexit, which remain a major stumbling block in deal negotiations.

Other options could involve some flexibility around the UK’s 12-mile nautical border, or some exclusivity for Britain within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, on Wednesday told the European Parliament she still hoped for a trade deal with Britain but warned that would be impossible if Boris Johnson pushed ahead with plans to renege on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Quoting Margaret Thatcher, Ms von der Leyen said: “Britain does not break Treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for our relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade we may need to make.”

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The Commission president added: “This was true then. And this is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership”.

Tory Brexiteers said any surrender of control of the waters around the Channel Islands would be “unacceptable”.

David Jones, Deputy Chairman of the European Research Group, said: “It would be unfair on British and Channel Islands fishermen if any such suggestion was to be accepted.

“These are British waters and our position has been consistent, that when we leave the transition period these will become our own waters as an independent coastal state and we will negotiate with the EU as to access to them.

“But certainly to surrender British waters would be quite unacceptable.

“If they want access to them, they should negotiate access to them on an annual basis.”

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, said the proposal would undermine “the principle of ‘take back control’”.

Britain is using the deal talks to push for annual renegotiation of fishing rights and “zonal attachment”, which uses scientific data to estimate the size and location of fish stocks, while the EU began the negotiations calling for Britain to continue to effectively adhere to the Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit (see more detail on how this policy works below).

The bloc says French coastal fishing communities would be affected if Britain regained control of the Channel Island waters.

Some compromise between the two positions could also involve a “phasing-out mechanism” that increases the UK share of fishing rights over time rather than overnight on January 1.

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There has been some progress on technical aspects of the talks on fisheries, including on quota sharing and a list of stocks.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Wednesday: “We have consistently said that we will not accept any proposals which compromise UK sovereignty over our own fishing waters.

“I’m not going to get into briefing from EU sources around the negotiations.”


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