Chancellor Philip Hammond would throw the rights of UK fishermen “under a bus in a heartbeat” if it meant gaining preferential market access for the City of London in Brexit trade talks, a Tory source has warned.
They told the Press and Journal it would be wrong to assume that fishing rights will be protected as the UK negotiates its way out of the EU.
And they also claimed it now looked likely the UK would be forced to remain within the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) beyond December 2020 amid expected moves to extend the Brexit transition period.
UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove insisted last week he remained “invincibly” confident that the agreed timetable would be honoured.
But the prime minister – under fire from all sides as she updated MPs on last week’s European Council summit yesterday – stopped short of giving this guarantee.
If the UK is not out of the CFP by the end of 2020, then it will be “locked in” for another cycle, namely throughout 2021.
This would mean the question remained unresolved going into the next Holyrood election.
The Tory source branded this “electoral suicide” for the party north of the border.
They told the P&J: “We have to be out by the beginning of the next cycle.
“We have to be independent by 2020. Otherwise we are locked in for another year, through 2021 and over the Holyrood election campaign. That would be electoral suicide.
“There is an assumption that fishing has been agreed. It hasn’t. It’s still on the table for trade talks.
“Our chancellor would throw it under a bus in a heartbeat if it meant for example getting preferential market access for the City.”
Mrs May faced multiple questions on the topic yesterday.
Democratic Unionist Jim Shannon asked her to confirm that leaving the EU would mean “taking back” our coastal waters.
Mrs May said she recognised concerns about the way the fishing industry was treated in the negotiations when the UK first entered the EEC, as it then was.
She added: “I’m clear we will become an independent coastal state, we will be able to take back that control and be able to make those decisions, negotiate on our own behalf on these issues rather than it being done by the EU.
“Also, we want to see how we can enhance our industry round the UK for the future.”
But she failed to back up Mr Gove’s earlier categoric assurance.
Andrew Bowie, the Tory MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, asked: “Do you share his confidence and would you make the same commitment?”
Mrs May replied she was “confident” the UK could negotiate its future relationship so that it “comes into place on 1 January 2021”.
In response to Moray MP Douglas Ross she said the interests of fishermen around the UK would be at the “forefront of our thinking”, but again she stopped short of guaranteeing the UK would be out of the CFP by the end of 2020.
Dumfries and Galloway MP Alister Jack asked her to confirm that when the UK leaves the CFP in December 2020 she would not allow “our fishing resources to be included in any future trade deal”.
Mrs May repeated that the UK would be an independent coastal state but would have to “sit round the table with others and negotiate”.
She added: “We will be doing that on our own for our own purposes.”
An HMT spokesperson said: “The Chancellor is committed to getting a good deal for all the UK’s vital industries – including fishing – when we leave the EU.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is completely untrue.”