Leaked email shows May's government pleading with Scottish Conservatives to back Brexit fishing deal

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  • Exclusive: Leaked email shows Theresa May’s government pleading with Scottish Conservatives to back her Brexit deal amid growing concerns about fishing rights after Brexit.
  • Some Scottish Tories have accused the prime minister of trading away British fishing rights in pursuit of a free trade deal with the EU.
  • The prime minister is on a charm offensive as she struggles to win over large numbers of potential Conservative rebels.
  • The draft Brexit political declaration was published today to fury from Conservative Brexiteers.

LONDON – Theresa May’s government has pleaded with Scottish Conservatives to support the Brexit political declaration announced on Thursday amid growing concern north of the border that the prime minister is preparing to surrender British fishing rights.

In an email leaked to Business Insider, with the subject heading “FISH”, a Downing Street official runs through each of the concerns raised by Scottish MPs about the deal agreed in Brussels.

The Downing Street official insists that the UK will be an “independent coastal state” which is able to “negotiate and decide” its quotas and fishing arrangements once it has left the European Union.

It also tries to shoot down criticisms of the UK government’s approach to fishing in Brexit talks, claiming that “like Norway and Iceland” the UK’s fishing waters will form a “separate agreement” to any economic deals with the EU.

On Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister May relayed the details of the email to the House of Commons, claiming that “the fishing agreement is not something we will be trading off against any other priorities.”

However, the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, appeared to contradict May on this point, tweeting: “We need an EU-UK fisheries agreement that covers both access to waters and market access.”

Scottish Conservatives are adamant that the UK’s fishing waters cannot be negotiated as part of a wider trade deal.

Here is an excerpt from the leaked email:

Theresa May Scotland Brexit emailAdam Payne/Business Insider
Theresa May Scotland Brexit fishing emailAdam Payne/Business Insider
Theresa May Scotland Brexit fishing emailAdam Payne/Business Insider

Scottish Conservative MPs are split on the political declaration, with Ross Thompson, the Conservative MP for Aberdeen South today accusing the government of sacrificing UK fishing rights for a trade deal with Brussels.

He tweeted: “This means sovereignty over our waters sacrificed for a trade deal. That is unacceptable. We must be a normal Independent coastal state like Norway.”

Last week, Scottish Conservative MPs wrote to May, warning the prime minister that “access and quota shares cannot be included in the Future Economic Partnership” with the European Union after Brexit.

However, Scottish Conservative MP Andrew Bowie told the New Statesman that MPs should accept what has been agreed and focus on getting a favourable deal on fishing in future relationship negotiations.

The Scotland Secretary David Mundell is also supporting the deal and refused to resign from the government last week despite previously privately raising his concerns about the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Mundell told ITV that he didn’t want to be part of a “sort of soap opera of resignations.”

David MundellLeon Neal/Getty ImagesDavid Mundell MP.

France, Denmark, Holland and Belgium have all pushed for the political declaration to say that the continuation of current arrangements for fishing access should be a precondition of a full UK-EU trade deal.

Quota shares of fish are currently allocated according to an EU formula, to the anger of British fishermen who say that fishing vessels from elsewhere in the EU have too much access to British waters.

The political declaration is noticeably vague on the subject of fishing post-Brexit, saying only that both sides will “use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020.”

Today’s draft Brexit political declaration triggered furious responses from Conservative MPs representing fishing communities in other parts of the UK.

Conservative MP for South East Cornwall Sheryll Murray told the Times: “The Prime Minister wants to commit us to stay in the Common Fisheries Policy in all but name. She seeks to enter a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares. Let’s be clear. This is a betrayal of Brexit.”

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