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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 20 March 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Urgent Question, Topical Question Time, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time, Holodomor Remembrance Day 2018


Urgent Question

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is an urgent question. As several members wish to ask a supplementary question, I ask members to ask a question and not tell a story, so that I can get everybody in before we move on to topical questions.

Brexit Transition Agreement (Fishing Industry)

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish fishing industry’s concerns regarding the terms of the Brexit transition agreement between the UK Government and the EU.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

Yesterday’s announcement was a surprise to no one. We warned about this happening, and so it has come to pass. The Tories have sold out the Scottish fishing industry once again, and Ruth Davidson should be shamefaced about her fastest broken Brexit promise yet.

On 11 March, Ruth Davidson issued a statement, jointly with Michael Gove, that said:

“The Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019.”

It is outrageous that Ruth Davidson and Michael Gove issued such a misleading statement last weekend, when they must have known what was about to happen. The only thing that is clear now is that Ruth Davidson’s credibility lies in ruins. She must apologise for her broken promise to our fishing industry.

The Tories have negotiated the worst possible outcome: we will be in the common fisheries policy not as a partner at the table; at best, we will be consulted. For that matter, 2019 is a crucial time for fisheries negotiations. Just as the Conservatives infamously deemed Scotland’s fisherman to be expendable in the negotiations to go into the common market in the 1970s, they are now betraying the industry in their deal making on the way out of the European Union.

Kate Forbes

I represent fisherman on the east and west coasts, many of whom were formerly represented by the cabinet secretary. Does he share their sense of betrayal at the deal?

Fergus Ewing

Yes. I had the honour of representing fisherman in the port of Mallaig in Kate Forbes’s constituency, and I came to respect them. As we know, they do difficult and perilous work. They will see the deal as a very clear betrayal. They were promised that the United Kingdom would be out of the CFP in March 2019—not once, but on several occasions. Now, we find that we will remain in the CFP and be rule takers rather than rule makers. From 2019 onwards, we will be bound by legislation that is not in the interests of sensible management, such as the legislation on the key issue of choke species, which threatens the viability of the Scottish fleet.

I am deeply concerned that the interests of the Scottish fishing industry have been given little consideration by the UK Government throughout the Brexit negotiations. Those who profess to represent the interests of the Scottish fishing industry have been shown to be entirely toothless.

Kate Forbes

The cabinet secretary will have heard the suggestion from Scottish Tory MPs that we should move on, because the deal is done, and focus on 2020. I find that unforgivable, because, in the words of fishing representatives such as Simon Collins—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No—I am afraid that I want to get everybody’s questions in. Please get to the question.

Kate Forbes

He said:

“the failure of our negotiators to stand up for the fishing industry’s interests has destroyed our trust in our ... government”.

Does the cabinet secretary agree?

Fergus Ewing

I agree. What has happened is completely unacceptable and adds insult to injury. The UK Government must now reconsider and seek sensible, pragmatic arrangements that do not sacrifice the interests of Scottish fisherman. In doing so, perhaps a sensible starting point for discussions on future relationships would be the UK Government not giving rise to any expectation that Scotland’s quota shares or access to waters will be used as a bargaining chip or permanently traded away as part of a Brexit deal.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I share the disappointment. However, we should be clear that we will become an independent coastal state.

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)


Peter Chapman

The Scottish National Party has been against Brexit from the start and would want to rejoin the EU in a heartbeat. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that current SNP policy is to rejoin the EU and the hated CFP?

Fergus Ewing

As the member knows, we have always opposed the CFP. Moreover, Michael Russell’s proposals in the Brexit negotiations, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, specifically stated that, in such a scenario, we would come out of the CFP. We have absolutely nothing to regret or apologise for. We are witnessing a complete betrayal by the Conservative Party of the promises that were made, which, incidentally, persuaded people to vote for Brexit in the first place.

Now, we see that those promises are gradually unravelling. The first to unravel is the date. I suspect that the next will be the substance, because I have asked Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove and George Eustice, face to face over the table in discussions, time and time again, whether they will give an unequivocal assurance that the UK Government will not trade away permanent access to our exclusive economic zone—our fishing rights—as part of a Brexit deal, and I have had no answer whatsoever to that question.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is clear from the exchanges so far that Scotland’s fisheries are being used as a political football by both the Scottish Government and the UK Government’s supporters. The UK Government has failed to keep its promise that Scotland’s fishing communities would no longer be in the common fisheries policy after March 2019, while the Scottish Government wants it both ways, conveniently forgetting that its policy is to go straight back into the EU—and, yes, that means back into the common fisheries policy.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Can I have your question, please, so that others can get in?

Colin Smyth

Does the cabinet secretary accept that what Scotland’s fishing communities need is an end to the political bickering and the transition period to be used to work with our fishing communities to negotiate the best deal possible, so that we support our fragile coastal towns—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We have got your question. I am sorry—I want to get everybody in.

Colin Smyth

—and secure tariff-free access to the vital EU markets?

Fergus Ewing

I can tell Colin Smyth that the fishermen do not want to end up in a situation in which the choke-species problem sees vessels tied up at harbour. They desperately require to have their voice heard at the table when such vital matters are being dealt with.

Having attended the negotiations in Brussels, both last December and the December before, I assure Mr Smyth that they are absolutely vital matters. However, because of the deal that the Conservative leadership in London has entered into—apparently without the Scottish Tory MPs having any influence whatsoever—we will be mere consultees rather than partners and equals at the table. That, surely, should be disturbing to every member of this Parliament.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Given the fury of the industry in Shetland towards what has happened over the past few days, can the cabinet secretary shed any light on how decisions about the mackerel—or species—roll-over on the discard ban and on choke species will be taken forward? If there is no minister in the negotiating room in Brussels, who will speak for Shetland fishermen?

Fergus Ewing

Tavish Scott makes a good point. Precisely because of the specific terms of the deal that has been agreed to by David Davis on behalf of the UK Government, the extraordinary position is that we will be in the CFP but out of the discussions. We will be bound by the rules but will have no chance to input on those rules in order to protect the fishermen in Mr Scott’s constituency or anywhere else. That is a preposterous and ridiculous outcome, and the key consideration is this: the fact that any UK Government could ever agree to it is proof positive that Scotland’s fishing interests do not matter very much to it.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Scottish Green Party is not a fan of the common fisheries policy. Whatever the future holds, will the Scottish Government insist on evidence-led decisions concerning our important fishing stocks and reject the hoover-up bonanza that is being promoted by Scotland’s Tories?

Fergus Ewing

Yes, I agree entirely with that. Mr Finnie’s point is important, and I am glad that it has been made in the debate. We must have a policy that is based on sustainable fisheries, as overfishing has been an acute problem in the past. The system of maximum sustainable yield, of total allowable catches and of quotas is based on the scientific evidence, which is the correct basis for a sustainable fisheries policy. I am happy to agree with Mr Finnie’s approach.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, no matter how many meetings Scotland’s Tory MPs have with Theresa May, it is now clear that they have no influence whatsoever or any way in which they can protect or promote the interests of Scottish fishing? Fergus Ewing mentioned that this deal is the worst possible outcome for Scottish fishing—and at a crucial time. Will he expand on what he means by that?

Fergus Ewing

I will expand on that. It means that we will have no influence over the decisions that are taken by the other EU states. I am pleased that I am not responsible for the conduct and views of the Scottish Tory MPs, but I note with interest that Mr Douglas Ross said this about the decision:

“There is no spinning this as a good outcome, it would be easier to get someone to drink a pint of cold sick than try to tell us this was a success.”

I am not sure that he has a way with words, but I do not think that he is going to get very far with the Prime Minister.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes the urgent question.