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Negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU had looked to be on the verge of collapse earlier this month when Boris Johnson threatened to pull out of negotiations with just weeks to go before the transition period deadline on December 31. Both sides have now resumed talks, with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator first travelling to London for crunch meetings with UK counterpart Lord Frost, before negotiations quickly moved to Brussels on Thursday, as hopes rise a trade deal can be agreed in time. However, Brexit negotiations have been dogged by bitter rows over both sides’ stubborn positions on a number of red lines, with fisheries arguably being the biggest stumbling block.
Britain wants fishing quotas to be renegotiated in an annual basis, but the EU has argued this would make it impossible for the industry to make investment decisions, with French President Emmanuel Macron being one of the UK’s strongest critics.
Mr Johnson has vowed to protect UK fishermen in any trade deal with the EU, often promising: “We will take back control of our waters.”
But Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Shetland and Orkney, has launched a scathing attack against the Tories, warning they made a “strategic error” with fishing during early negotiations with the EU.
He lashed out at Theresa May and then Brexit Secretary David Davis for not including fisheries in the original Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.
When asked if an unnecessary crisis was created by not including fisheries in the Withdrawal Agreement and only the Political Declaration, Mr Carmichael told Express.co.uk: “Absolutely and when that Withdrawal Agreement was made, I had an Urgent Question in the House of Commons to Michael Gove saying exactly that.
“Reading between the lines, I think David Davis and Theresa May between them made a strategic error of judgement there because they didn’t understand the strength of feeling there is in the fishing industry.
“At that point, they would almost have tried to sell-out the fishing industry at a later date but once they realised the strength of feeling that there was, then they found themselves trying to claw it back.
“It was up to them – they made the promises and having made those promises, they should have delivered on that.
“They have made a rod for their own back there.”
Mr Carmichael said the current impasse between the UK and EU on fisheries was “completely foreseeable and completely unnecessary” and urged Mr Johnson to fulfil the Brexit promises the Tories made to the fishing industry in any trade deal with EU.
But he warned any betrayal by the Prime Minister towards the fishing industry could have “pretty severe” consequences for his Conservative Party.
The Liberal Democrat MP said: “The fishing industry has been promised a lot from Brexit and the people who were the most enthusiastic and campaigning for Brexit, are now the ones who are responsible for delivering on the promises that they made.
“It’s now down to a question of simple political will as to whether or not they deliver on the promises that they made.
“This current impasse between the UK and EU was completely foreseeable and completely unnecessary.
“If first Theresa May and then Boris Johnson had included fishing in the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than leaving it to be dealt as part of the Political Declaration, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this difficult situation.
“That was what was promised in the first place.
“They didn’t have the political will to hold out for it in the Withdrawal Agreement so at that point you had to wonder if they would have the political will to deal with it in the Political Declaration.
“Given the high importance of fishing to my community and given the importance the industry attaches to the promises that they were made, I hope they do have the political will to hold out
“The political consequences for any party that betrays the fishing industry now will be pretty severe.”
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