Brexit fishing talks disruption claim denied by Scottish Cabinet minister

A Scottish Government minister has denied it undermined Brexit talks by urging both sides to compromise on the fishing sector.

UK Government trade officials are said to be furious at the Scottish Government for their intervention in deadlocked negotiations, claiming it made the talks harder.

Regular discussions, separate to the Brexit negotiations, are held between Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, other Government ministers and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Brexit
Mike Russell (centre) said the Scottish Government has at all times stressed the need to compromise (Jane Barlow/PA)

According to a report in The Times, sources at Westminster said they “called out” their Holyrood counterparts during an official catch-up between the Scottish and UK Governments for apparently saying “both sides need to move a bit”.

A UK Government source told the newspaper: “This behaviour does not just undermine the UK Government, it undermines Scotland and its fishermen by stopping the UK from speaking as one voice to say that we want to be an independent coastal state once again.”

Asked about the story, Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Mike Russell told BBC Radio Scotland he will continue to call for compromise.

He said: “I think what the UK is saying is that we’ve attempted to disrupt negotiations – they’ve actually been able to do that themselves without any difficulty, they didn’t need our help to do so.

“But what actually has happened is part of the normal conversation that the Scottish Government has had with the EU over the past four years, and at all times we’ve stressed the need to compromise on both sides.”

Negotiations over fishing rights have proved to be a contentious area in Brexit trade talks, with a key pillar of the campaign to exit the EU focusing on leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and regaining sovereignty and control of the waters around the UK.

Currently, fishing fleets of every country involved have full access to each other’s waters, apart from the first 12 nautical miles out from the coast, with quotas set each year about how much they can catch.

I welcome the statement from our fisheries organisations @sff_uk and @NFFO_UK this morning setting out their approach to fisheries in our negotiations with the EU and their full support for our negotiating position. https://t.co/cPm5P85vxR

— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) September 4, 2020

David Frost, the UK’s Brexit envoy, has tabled plans that would double the amount British fishermen can catch in the UK’s coastal waters, although the proposals are thought to be considered unrealistic by EU negotiators.

Both the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) and National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation (NFFO) issued a statement last week backing the UK Government’s stance and arguing the UK must have “full control” over access to British waters for Brexit to be a success.

As fear grows the Brexit negotiations could end without a deal, Mr Russell said it is “not true” this outcome could benefit Scotland’s fishing industry.

He said: “You can have a vast amount of fish but if you cannot sell them to people and you cannot process them because you cannot get the staff – and the end of freedom of movement is already creating those difficulties – then it doesn’t mean that you’ve got any significant advantage at all.”

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