Scotland Seeks to Build On Brexit Opposition With Focus on Fish

Scotland’s pro-independence government is seeking to amplify national opposition to Brexit by focusing on how the U.K.’s deal with the European Union could hurt the fishing industry.

The trade deal struck by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Christmas Eve will reduce quotas for some key catches, according to an analysis by the semi-autonomous administration in Edinburgh. It found that smaller quantities of some types of cod and haddock will be allowed and the reduction won’t be mitigated by an increase in the catch for mackerel and herring.

“There is very little here to celebrate, and plenty to be worried about for the future of Scotland’s fishing interests,” Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for rural economy, said in a statement.

Scotland opposed Brexit and its leadership is pushing for another vote on independence. While First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has talked of how the nation is being taken out of the EU against its will, the narrative is now shifting to how the Brexit deal fails Scotland as her Scottish National Party tries to build on growing public enthusiasm for leaving the U.K.

Every region of Scotland voted to remain in the EU in 2016, though some of the biggest pockets of support for Brexit were among coastal communities. Johnson managed to secure a deal with the EU because of a last-minute compromise over how and when to reduce access to British fishing waters.

The U.K. government says the country will prosper outside the EU and Brexit will help the fishing industry thrive. Yet under the agreement, 25% of EU rights to catch fish in British waters will be transferred over 5 1/2 years, much less than Johnson’s original demand for an 80% cut.

The Scottish government said in its report published on Tuesday that there was no potential gain in access to stocks that were previously out of bounds and that Scottish boats would lose an extra quota that had been part of a special arrangement with the EU. The commentary echoed an earlier statement from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which referred to a “profound sense of disillusionment, betrayal, and fury.”

For Sturgeon and her administration, it’s as much a matter of politics as the economy. Opinion polls show support for independence is as high as 58% -- Scots voted 55% to 45% to stay in the three-centuries-old U.K. in a 2014 referendum -- while the SNP looks on course for another landslide victory in Scottish elections in May.

Should the SNP win an outright majority, pressure will mount on Johnson and his Conservatives to grant a fresh independence vote, which he’s so far refused to sanction. The opposition Labour Party also said it will campaign against holding another vote.

“A better deal for fishing is the only Brexit justification the Tories have ever been able to offer Scotland,” Sturgeon wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “This analysis shows just how spectacularly they’ve broken that promise.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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