Don’t betray our fishermen! Meddling SNP accused of ‘undermining’ Brexit negotiators

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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.

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 Times: “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.”

But Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Mike Russell denied it had undermined Brexit negotiations, which were ongoing in London today.Asked about the story, Mr Russell said he will continue to call for compromise.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: “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.

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.”

It comes amid reports Prime Minister Prime Minister is looking to to row back on parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland

Downing Street said ministers signed up to the Northern Ireland protocol in the hope “ambiguity in important areas” would be resolved but cannot allow “damaging default positions to kick in” if agreement cannot be found.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Withdrawal Agreement was written on the basis that subsequent agreements could be reached between us and the EU on the detail through the joint committee process.

“That may yet be possible and we remain committed to talks with the EU, but as a responsible Government we can’t allow damaging default positions to kick in if we can’t agree those at joint committee.

“We signed up to the Northern Ireland protocol in belief that its ambiguity in important areas would be resolved satisfactorily by the joint committee this year that may still happen.

“The Prime Minister has publicly ruled out export summary declarations on goods moving from NI to GB and tariffs on goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland on several occasions and he did that in advance of the Withdrawal Agreement being approved by the EU.”

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