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25 December 2020 22:31

Brexit House of Commons of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson

How the Brexit trade deal found a compromise on fishing, and what the industry has said

EU ambassadors give up festivities to inspect details of historic agreement secured between bloc and UK a day earlier. European Union ambassadors have started to assess the post-Brexit trade deal clinched on Thursday between the bloc and the United Kingdom, as both sides move quickly to ratify the pact. The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is updating diplomats from the bloc's 27 member states on Friday – Christmas Day – as they begin the review process of the deal document. Friday's meeting in Brussels, which the group is attending in person, comes less than a day after the Brexit deal was finally sealed, following months of fractious negotiations defined by divisions over fishing rights, competition rules and governance issues. The deal averts the prospect of a chaotic and acrimonious divorce at the end of this year and ensures the UK and EU can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas, smoothing trade worth hundreds of billions of pounds – and euros – a year between the pair.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday said he hoped the agreement would be put to the UK Parliament for a vote next week, on December 30, just one day before the Brexit transition period expires. Johnson's governing Conservative Party has a strong majority in the legislative chamber and the main opposition Labour Party on Thursday confirmed it would back the agreement, saying it was the only alternative to a chaotic no-deal Brexit scenario. On the EU side, the agreement needs the approval of all of the bloc's member states and the European Parliament, which has ruled out rushing through ratification of the deal before the end of this year. EU law does, however, include a mechanism for agreements to be provisionally applied without its parliament's consent if approved by its member states. The European Parliament said on Thursday it would analyse the deal in detail before deciding whether to approve the agreement in the new year.

"We will act responsibly in order to minimise disruption to citizens and prevent the chaos of a no-deal scenario," European Parliament President David Sassoli said on Twitter. In essence, the deal is a narrow free trade pact surrounded with other agreements on a range of issues including energy, transport, and police and security cooperation. The pact will not cover services, which make up 80 percent of the UK economy, and there will still be some major changes come January 1, when more rules and increased bureaucracy will come into effect. Analysts said the deal looked "pretty skinny" for the UK, but could help pave the way for future agreements on other key issues such as data sharing. "On the one hand, it is a relatively slim deal – it focuses on goods and largely excludes services," Maddy Thimont Jack, a specialist Brexit researcher at the UK's Institute for Government, told Al Jazeera.

"But on the other, it does go further than other EU trade agreements – including issues like security and energy. It is also the only zero-tariff zero-quota agreement the EU has signed," she said. Had the UK and the EU failed to compromise, a no-deal Brexit scenario would have forced them to default to trading under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from January 1. WTO rules would have brought financial tariffs, quotas and other regulatory barriers to trade into play. Although a disruptive divorce of that nature has been avoided, the UK is still headed for a major break away from the bloc, Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, told Al Jazeera.

"If you think about where we have come from, this is very much towards the hard end [of the Brexit spectrum]," he said. How the Brexit trade deal found a compromise on fishing, and what the industry has said A compromise emerged slowly over a period of months, with the final details agreed shortly before the announcement of the deal on Thursday Fishing industry leaders have voiced discomfort with the Brexit trade deal, after a compromise was forged over one of the most contentious issues in negotiations. Fishing has also become totemic for Brexiteers who have spent years criticising the EU's Common Fisheries Policy and lamenting the decline of the industry. Likewise, getting the issue right was of paramount importance to the EU, with member states such as France and Spain pressing to maintain access to UK waters and threatening to veto any agreement that short-changed them. Negotiations on fishing proved thorny, as multiple deadlines blew past with no final deal in sight even as other details were settled.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wears a fish-covered tie as he announces a deal. The two sides came at the issue with contradictory positions, with the UK demanding to take back control of its fishing waters while the EU pressed to avoid access being cut off from January. However, a compromise emerged slowly over a period of months aiming to please both sides, with the final details agreed shortly before the announcement of the deal on Thursday. Under the agreement, EU fishing vessels will still have full access to fish in UK waters until 2026, with a 25 per cent cut gradually imposed to its fishing quota. The deal will see quotas returned to the UK over the five-and-a-half year transition period, down from a period of 14 years initially proposed by the EU. The UK also made concessions to get the agreement over the line, with a proposed exclusion zone to protect inshore fisheries not included in the final deal. The deal will see quotas returned to the UK over a five-and-a-half year transition period (Photo: Hugh Hastings/Getty) Speaking on Thursday, Mr Johnson accepted that the UK had given ground, but asserted: "For the first time since 1973 we will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters." The Prime Minister said: "It would be fair to say that we wanted to make sure for instance that we got… complete control of our fisheries from the get go and that's just to say we had annual negotiations on fisheries within the shortest possible delay. "The EU began with I think wanting a transition period of 14 years, we wanted three years, we've ended up at five years. I think that was a reasonable transition period and I can assure great fish fanatics in this country that we will as a result of this deal be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish." Mr Johnson also promised to invest £100 million in the British fishing industry ahead of the 2026 deadline. Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said there will be "frustration and anger" across the industry about the outcome of the negotiations. Mr Deas said he thought the failure to secure a 12-mile exclusion zone is "going to be particularly contentious". He said: "In the end it was clear that Boris Johnson wanted an overall trade deal and was willing to sacrifice fishing. "The broad feeling is that the UK has made significant concessions on fish in order to secure a trade deal. "We have secured increases in quota from the EU but they don't come anywhere close to what our entitlement is in international law. She said: "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. 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." The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said that Brexit means the sector now faces the reality of "lots more red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork" and warned that delays in getting fish to European markets will have "serious consequences" for perishable products. SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott said: "We are pleased the negotiators have at last secured a deal. This will alleviate some of the serious problems that would come from a 'no deal' Brexit. Brexit means the Scottish salmon sector now face the reality of lots more red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork which are the reality of the extra trade barriers which come with Brexit." Even before the text of the post-Brexit trade agreement was published, lawmakers loyal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson lavished praise on him for resolving an issue that has convulsed British politics for almost half a decade. When Parliament convenes next week to ratify the document, the question will only be the size of Mr. Johnson's majority for a deal that severs close economic ties to continental Europe on Jan. 1 after almost 50 years. ✕ Close Boris Johnson accused of 'mis-selling' Brexit deal Nigel Farage joined other prominent Brexiteers revelling in Britain's exit from the EU, following an historic deal reached between London and Brussels on Thursday. The former Brexit Party leader, who proved instrumental in Britain's momentous 2016 vote to leave the bloc, claimed the deal meant "victory" for "ordinary men and women". Ambassadors from the EU's 27 nations convened on Christmas Day to start assessing the free trade deal, which takes effect in just a week. At Friday's exceptional meeting, the EU delegations asked for more time to study the texts before sending them to lawmakers at the European Parliament, according to an EU diplomat. But the fishing industry said it had been sacrificed by the UK government in its desperation to strike an agreement. Barrie Deas, head of the National Federation of Fisherman's Organisations, said there would be "frustration and anger" at the "significant concessions" agreed by the government. Under the deal announced on Thursday, there would be a five-year transition period after which EU catch in British waters would be reduced by 25 per cent, compared to the 60 per cent the UK was asking for as recently as last week.