Scots Tories face election backlash over 'disappointing' fisheries deal

Scots fishing leaders say that the Brexit trade deal struck by the UK Government is "hugely disappointing" and does not deliver on promises to regain control of Scotland’s waters.

Fraserburgh harbour houses much of the Scottish fleet
Fraserburgh harbour houses much of the Scottish fleet

There are now warnings that the Conservatives will face a backlash at the Scottish elections in May after the deal appeared to allow the EU fleet access to Scottish waters for “effectively” the next six years.

But the UK Government has insisted that the deal will allow the UK to again become a "sovereign coastal state."

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A free trade deal was struck on Christmas Eve, just a week before the Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year.

Almost two-thirds of Scots voted against Brexit at the 2016 EU referendum, although it did have greater support in fishing communities over the prospect of withdrawal from the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This allows open access to Scottish waters where French and Spanish trawlers currently enjoy the bulk of the catch.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said that - on the surface - the Fisheries Agreement did not appear to deliver on the industry’s aspirations.

“What has been outlined so far is that full access will be granted to EU vessels for effectively six years from January,” she said.

“Over the same timescale the increase in quota shares for UK vessels will be 25 per cent.

“The Government has not yet provided the full text of the agreement or how this increase will apply to particular species, so it is very difficult to make a detailed assessment of the impact on our industry.

“However, the principles that the Government said it supported – control over access, quota shares based on zonal attachment, annual negotiations – do not appear to be central to the agreement.

“After all the promises given to the industry, that is hugely disappointing. We expect to be able to study the detail in the coming days and will issue a further statement when we have been able to do so.”

Nicola Sturgeon said after the deal was announced it appeared that "major promises" made by the UK government on fisheries had been broken.

The SNP's Moray MSP Richard Lochhead, whose constituency takes in much of the country's fishing fleet, warned the Tories face a reckoning at next year's Holyrood election

"I expect our fishing communities are preparing to gut the Scottish Conservative Party who chased their votes with outlandish promises they knew they couldn’t honour," he said on Twitter.

"History repeating itself on way out of the EU just as they sold out the sector on the way in the 1970s."

Fishing was one of the major areas of contention in the negotiations and Boris Johnson said that the UK had been forced to compromise on its initial position in the trade talks which would have mean at three year transition. The EU had been demanding 14 years.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has insisted that the deal is good news for the industry.

“We have an agreement on fisheries which will ensure that our fishermen, and our coastal communities, will flourish outside of the EU’s unfair Common Fisheries Policy," he said.

"The UK will once more be a sovereign coastal state."

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