This article was published prior to the publication of the post-Brexit agreement between the UK and EU which covers the relationship between the UK and EU following the end of the implementation period (commonly referred to as the “transition period”) created by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and should be read in that context. For up-to-date commentary and information on our services, please see our Beyond Brexit page.
Back in June we published an article on how the UK Marine Sector was preparing itself for Brexit. Now, as part of our end of year roundup we return to the subject to see what developments there have been.
The fishing industry was overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit and so the news that we had decided to leave the European Union was consequently met with widespread delight. This stems from many factors, chief among them the immense hostility of the industry towards the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, as well as the policy of allowing non-UK vessels the right to fish in the UK's Exclusive Economic Zone. The CFP imposes quotas on UK vessels to preserve fishing stocks, which many think has been unfair and damaging to industry growth. Meanwhile, many believe allowing non-UK vessels to fish in our waters has led to a disproportionate economic relationship where the UK has continually been on the losing side. So it is not difficult to see why the opportunity for change that Brexit had presented was greeted with open arms, by an industry that has felt largely hard done by from the outset of joining the EU.
However, the main narrative that has developed since 24 June is that Brexit is not only hard to define but will be even harder to negotiate. Although under Article 50 the UK must technically withdraw within two years, some economists have said the actual process could take more like 10 years, while others have said that 20 years of negotiation is more realistic. The fishing industry, which has been among the most heavily legislated industries during our time in the EU, will be among the most difficult to agree, with some even saying that a complete overhaul of laws may be impossible and some regulations will need to be retained. Last week the House of Lords committee on Energy and the Environment stated that, if the UK is to retain access to the single market, then the fishing industry must accept difficult deals over foreign fleets. With the UK being so dependent on EU trade, they argued that single market access, together with open and low tariff access for member states, would be "essential" for UK fisheries going forward.
Outside of fishing, the difficulties associated with Brexit in the wider marine industry are set to continue. Shipping had already been facing wholesale decline prior to the decision and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is unlikely to arrest this process. The insurance industry has also been hit by the revelation that it will not be involved in new EU-wide disaster measures, as the UK may have to negotiate its own deal. Those looking for a glimmer of light, however, could look at the news that the UK may not now be affected by the proposed Ports Services Regulation. Some had felt this legislation would be costly and unnecessary, but we may now avoid this being implemented here as we begin to take full control over the regulation of our ports and harbours again.
Overall, the picture for the marine industry, like the predictions for the rest of the economy, looks far from buoyant at this stage, as the reality of the road now facing the UK becomes apparent. However, as stated in our last article, it is still very early days and many of the predictions now made may turn out to be wide of the mark. Whatever happens, we will continue to update you with developments in this vital area of the UK economy.