Leader comment: Gove must clarify fishing waters stance

Early last June in the run up to the referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union, an emotional Michael Gove MP, a key Brexiteer, appeared close to tears as he told a live television audience how he had witnessed first-hand how the Brussels' bureaucrats had wrecked his adopted father's Aberdeen-based fish business.

The Scottish fishing industry was one of the few parts of the economy to welcome Brexit, because it would end the disliked common fisheries policy.

The former Westminster justice secretary said his father’s firm had been “destroyed by the European Union” adding that the institution was a “job-destroying machine”.

Now Mr Gove’s words appear to have come back to haunt him with his pronouncement to Danish industry leaders that foreign fishing vessels will still be allowed to fish in “Scottish” waters.

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Not only does this appear to contradict what Mr Gove, now the UK Environment Secretary, said on the Andrew Marr show last month – that no foreign boats would be allowed to fish within six to 12 miles of the UK coast and that the UK would be “taking back control” of its waters – it also goes against the understanding of fishing communities which voted to leave the EU on the basis that the common fisheries policy was harmful to the industry, citing harmful quotas and boats from other countries given equal access to UK waters as their main grievances.

The fishing industry was just about the only part of the Scottish economy to welcome Brexit – what an irony if fishermen now find they are not getting what they thought they were voting for.

Meanwhile the Danes have said they are seeking a deal that would effectively mean “business as usual” with regard to access to UK fisheries after Brexit. This will deepen concerns held by Scottish fishermen. Is Brexit actually going to make any difference?

This development has come as a surprise, but really, it shouldn’t. The UK’s negotiating position is to get out of the EU but retain as many of its advantages as possible, i.e. access to markets. We are hardly in a position to complain if other countries take the same approach in the opposite direction.

Mr Gove has created great uncertainty in fishing communities. He has to clarify the position at the earliest opportunity, and let the industry know where it stands – free of what it saw as the shackles of the EU ... or is access to UK fishing waters being used as a bargaining tool in Brexit negotiations?