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Brexit fishing row erupted as UK was ordered to pay £100m to Spain: 'This is sick'

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Fishing has long been a subject of tension between the UK and Europe, and was a major reason Britons voted for Brexit in 2016. Despite a trade deal being reached between London and Brussels, leaders on both sides of the English Channel continue to clash over fishing rights. Jersey’s government has hit out at the French government over their desired access to the Channel Island’s waters. Fishermen in the UK have also expressed anger over the EU’s trading restrictions as well as the extra bureaucracy that came in on January 1.

Disagreements between the UK and EU member states have also led to huge bills for Britain over the years, including when London was ordered to pay an estimated £100million in compensation to Spanish fishermen.

The ruling came in 1999, 11 years after Spanish fishermen were prevented from fishing against UK quotas.

The decision was made by five law lords – at the time the highest level of appeal – and it angered many in the UK.

The law lords warned that Britain would have to pay the price for passing a merchant shipping act in 1988 despite fears it breached European law.

The act laid down that any boats fishing against British quotas had to be at least 75 percent British owned, and was initially set out under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.

Stephen Swabey, solicitor to the Spanish fishing boat owners, said at the time that interest and legal costs would push the taxpayers’ bill to over £100million.

There was also outrage in 1990 when the merchant shipping act was suspended by the House of Lords after a ruling from the European Court of Justice.

Lord Hoffmann one of the law lords who unanimously condemned the Government, said Britain’s discrimination against other EU nationals on the grounds of nationality “was prima facie flouting one of the most basic principles of Community law”.

Then manager of Plymouth Fisheries, Peter Bromley, said: “The feelings of the industry will be very strong and the Government will continue to do absolutely nothing about it.

“As far as I am concerned the British industry is a valuable asset to this country, and it is not exploited to the extent it should be to the benefit of the British people or the British

fishermen.

“This is just a sick joke played on an industry which is having to fight very hard for its survival.

“We seem to be kow-towing to Europe over everything at the moment.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary at the time, John Maples, said: “This shows that a completely new approach to European fisheries policy is needed.”

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“As in the Article 50 case, Parliament had conceded in the Rome Treaty and the European Communities Act the supremacy of EC law and ceded sovereignty to the Community. The judgement simply reflected that – but many saw it otherwise.”

Mr Greene also highlighted how the Factortame row would impact Brexit talks.

He argued that the principles of the case would be wheeled out again and again because the withdrawal agreement and withdrawal bill were based on the supremacy of EU law in the transition period.

Carl Gardner, a lawyer who has negotiated for the UK and defended the Government in the European courts, said in 2019 that while the decision came as a shock to the British legal system, it came as “even more of a shock to the political system”.

He continued: “The experience made politicians more defensive of sovereignty.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever hear the last of Factortame, which leaves as permanent a mark on our law and politics as any case ever decided by the court.”



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