MICHAEL Gove is seeking to avert a “terrible betrayal” of the Brexit vote by fighting Philip Hammond over the use of fishing rights as a bargaining chip, it was reported today.
The Leave backing environment secretary apparently clashed with the Remainer chancellor at a recent Cabinet meeting over whether Britain should take back control of its waters.
According to sources close to Mr Gove he told Mr Hammond that the opportunity to reinvigorate the UK’s fishing industry, which has been decimated by the EU quota scheme, must not be squandered.
The chancellor apparently wants to offer European countries continued rights to fish British waters in return for wider concessions on the scope of a future free trade deal.
According to insiders the pair had “quite an exchange” on the issue at a recent meeting of the Cabinet, which has been riven with divisions over the best approach to leaving the EU.
The briefing comes after Mr Gove himself was accused of rowing back on the promises of the referendum when he said Dutch fishermen would continue to land in UK waters after Brexit.
He has previously spoken in very emotional terms about the EU’s disastrous Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which he blames for driving his stepfather’s business in Aberdeen to the wall.
But in the last few weeks Mr Gove has openly contradicted himself, first saying that there would be no foreign vessels operating in UK waters after Brexit and then saying there would be.
Officials close to the environment secretary are now attempting to clear up the confusion by insisting that he is sicking to the promise he made as a leading light in Vote Leave to take back control of fishing policy.
Michael was adamant that giving them away again would be a terrible betrayal
A Cabinet source told The Sun: “Philip and Michael had quite an exchange on what to do with fishing rights already. Michael was adamant that giving them away again would be a terrible betrayal of the coastal communities who all voted for Brexit.”
In a hint of the wrangling to come over a future trade deal, they then added: “This will be one of the major Brexit division lines in Cabinet in the Autumn as we begin trade talks.”
A second Whitehall source confirmed: “There were different emphases on what to do with fishing in the negotiations. The Treasury and DEFRA have different priorities, but we are not at war quite yet.”
Under international law, Britain will be allowed to claim control over its nautical Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which stretches up to 200 miles off shore once it leaves the EU.
Many coastal communities devastated by the bloc’s fishing policies see Brexit as the perfect opportunity to reinvigorate the domestic industry, which has been pushed out by European rivals.
But EU leaders, especially in France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, are determined to hold onto their lucrative access to British waters beyond 2019, heralding a future showdown during the trade talks.
German chancellor Angela Merkel recently told a meeting of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the port town of Cuxhaven that she would push the UK for “fair conditions” after Brexit.
And France has also warned that it will similarly pressure Theresa May on the issue, with president Emmanuel Macron vowing to fight to protect the interests of French fishermen.