UK may block Republic’s fishing vessels: minister

Farming minister George Eustice
Farming minister George Eustice

Ireland’s access to UK fishing waters could be suspended to apply pressure on the country to fix a “constitutional defect”, the Government’s fisheries minister said.

The Voisinage Arrangement between the two countries allow for mutual access to Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland vessels up to six nautical miles off the coast of each country.

The agreement has been suspended in Ireland since the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that it had not been incorporated properly into Irish law.

The UK has not suspended the operation of the agreement on its side and said it was committed to the principle of the deal and to working with Ireland to reinstate the arrangement.

UK fisheries minister George Eustice said: “We have got a crucial period over the next few months as we finalise the (EU) withdrawal agreement and discuss a future economic partnership.

“Once we have fixed that, if the Irish Republic by that time have not reciprocated and fixed the constitutional deficit that they have, then we would have to consider at that point suspending their access, suspending the agreement so that there is some pressure on them to act.”

He gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs on Wednesday about the impact of Brexit on fisheries.

Kate Hoey, a pro-Brexit Labour MP, questioned why the UK had not reciprocated what she termed the tough Brexit stance adopted by Ireland.

“Why are we so weak that we just accept that?” she asked, adding that in negotiations the Irish Government “seem to be playing a hard ball way”.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is gathering evidence on the implications of Brexit for the fishing industry in Northern Ireland.

It has focused on the sea fishing sector in Northern Ireland, which employs 850 people.

Meanwhile MPs have blocked attempts to force confidential Cabinet papers on Brexit to be released to Parliament.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington claimed it would be extremely damaging for the quality of Government decisions if Labour’s motion requiring publication of papers prepared for a Cabinet sub-committee on the UK’s two future customs models, including any economic analysis, was approved.

Ministers and officials should be free to have frank discussions in private, he said, and their candour “would be affected if they thought the content of their discussions would be disclosed prematurely”.

Conservative MP Anna Soubry hit out at the Opposition’s “Mickey Mouse motion”, adding Labour should have “done its job” by putting before the Commons a proposal about the customs union or customs arrangement.

The Labour motion this evening was defeated by 301 votes to 269.