'Huge consequences': Dutch fishing industry weighs up cost of no-deal Brexit

Suban Abdulla
·4-min read
Female crew member of fishing boat carrying salmon to hold of boat
The clock is ticking on to get a Brexit deal through the door before the UK leaves EU trading rules on 31 December. Photo: Getty

As Britain and the European Union reached a stalemate on Brexit negotiations on Friday after "significant divergences" Dutch businesses have called on negotiators to reach a last-minute deal to avoid a “disaster.”

EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord David Frost said in a joint statement that they were putting discussions on "pause" to allow political leaders to take stock.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will hold crunch talks on Saturday as conditions for a deal had still not been met.

While both sides have agreed on most things, some issues remain unsolved and the clock is ticking on to get a deal through the door before the UK leaves EU trading rules on 31 December.

Crucially, the UK and EU have failed to solve their differences on key sticking points including fishing rights, the governance and a level playing field.

While fishing plays a small part in the UK and French economies, it carries a political weight on both sides of the Channel.

Without an agreement on fisheries both sides could walk away from the table without a deal. A move which jeopardises EU and British fishermen.

According to the BBC, in England more than half the quota is in foreign hands, with more than 60% of the overall tonnage hauled from British waters caught by foreign boats.

Dutch industry bodies, VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland have also expressed worries over a no-deal agreement.

“It is important for Dutch fisheries that clear agreements are made about fishing rights giving them continued access to British waters,” a VNO-NCW spokesman said.

He added: “It is also important to have clarity at a stroke, rather than an agreement that is revised on a yearly basis. A no-deal Brexit would have huge consequences for Dutch business life.”

The Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers notes Britain as one of the Netherlands’ top five trading partners. According to figures by Statistics Netherlands, exported goods and services were worth €28.3bn (£25bn, $34.3bn) in 2019.

Dutch trade credit insurer Euler Hermes Nederland says a no-deal Brexit would cost the country 10.5% of current exports to the UK, worth €4.8bn. “So it is incredibly important for Dutch businesses that there is a deal with clear agreements about a level playing field.”

READ MORE: Johnson and EC chief to break Brexit deal deadlock amid 'significant divergences'

Waters are murky, however, with the extent of access Dutch fishermen will have to UK waters in the future still remaining unclear.

Other questions are also raised, particularly amongst Dutch fishermen who haul in fish by ships flying under the British flag — a practice that could be reeled in by UK customs officers.

A research by the Dutch government-funded information service Vistikhetmaar.nl shows that Dutch fishermen hooked an average catch of 123 tonnes per year from British waters between 2006 and 2015.

This is 35% of the total value of fish in the country — a catch worth €85m.

Meanwhile, Pim Visser, director of VisNed fishermen’s union, said that no deal would leave the fishing industry in a difficult position. “If there’s no deal, then British waters are no longer accessible for Dutch fishers, which would lead to an enormous pressure on other areas,” Visser said.

It comes after Britain’s foreign secretary last week urged the EU to accept a "point of principle" on fisheries — a key sticking point in reaching an agreement. The foreign secretary said at the time that there was progress and that the UK was in a “reasonable position.”

But, progress has been spoilt by reports that France has threatened to veto any agreement if it involves too many concessions from the EU’s side.

In October, French president Emmanuel Macron was said to be laying the brickwork for a delicate compromise on fisheries, to help the UK and EU agree a deal.

Macron, who has publicly taken a hard stance on the issue, told French fishermen to brace for a smaller catch after Brexit, Reuters reports.

Watch: What is a no-deal Brexit and what are the potential consequences?