Rupert Matthews is an MEP for the East Midlands.
Along with my Dutch colleague in the European Parliament, Peter van Dalen, I recently hosted a conference in the European Parliament, to looking at the future of the fishing industry in the seas of northern Europe, post-Brexit. I was intrigued when one of the first questions from the floor came from a representative of the Falkland Islands Fishing Companies Association.
Like many others, I remember watching on TV as our fleet set sail to go to fight the Falklands War. Because of that, the Falkland Islands hold a special place in the hearts of many British people. But, to be honest, I have always been a little vague about those beautiful, wild islands in the South Atlantic. Certainly, when somebody mentions the Falklands, fishing is not be the first thing to spring to my mind. Still, it turns out that fishing really is something of a Falkland Islands success story.
The introduction of a fisheries conservation zone and fisheries management regime in 1986 transformed the economy of the islands, securing its self-sufficiency in all areas except defence and external affairs. Whilst the Falklands fishery may not be large in global terms, it accounts for some 40 per cent of the Falklands’ GDP: despite its population of just over 3,000, total catches are about a third of those taken in the UK.
As an Overseas Territory of the UK, the Falkland Islands currently benefits from both tariff and quota-free access for fishery products exported to the EU. In 2017, the EU was the destination for 94 per cent of the Islands’ exports of fishery products – by weight, the majority being squid. If you eat calamari in southern Europe, there is about a 50 per cent chance it is a Falklands squid!
Whilst the economic impact of the fishery has been transformational, the Falkland Islands are careful stewards of their reserves, and aim to ensure the long-term sustainability of fishery resources, to benefit both future generations of islanders, and the rich marine biodiversity of the South Atlantic.
The status of the Falkland Islands as an Overseas Territory of the UK is, of course, disputed. Argentina still claims the islands, and it is supported by a number of countries. The attitude of the European Union is ambivalent. The EU recognises British rule as being in existence but, crucially, does not recognise British sovereignty.
It is takes no great stretch of the imagination to see the hand of Spain as being influential in the EU’s attitude. What complicates this is that many of the calamari are caught by large, ocean-going Spanish fishing ships. Their owners pay fees to the Falklands Islands government for permission to fish in Falklands waters. Quite what the EU’s attitude will be after Brexit is unclear. British diplomats must remain firm in standing up for self-determination, which is a fundamental right under the Charter of the United Nations. It is important – for very obvious reasons – that the EU continues to respect the wishes of all Falkland Islanders to remain a self-governing Overseas Territory of the UK. This desire was clearly rearticulated following a sovereignty referendum in 2013, where, on a turnout of 92 per cent, 99.8 per cent voted in favour of remaining a self-governing Overseas Territory of the UK.
As such, the Falklands would be covered by whatever trade deal the UK strikes with the EU. It is clearly important to the Falklands economy that the current tariff and quota-free access to the EU market should continue. This is also important to the UK fishing industry, since a surprisingly large share of the shellfish and fish caught in UK waters is exported to the EU.
Along with my colleagues in Brussels, I support the Prime Minister in her objective of securing a good deal with the EU. These are challenging and exciting times for us all. As the Government negotiates a new relationship with the EU, I hope they will remember that, along with my own constituents in the East Midlands, there are around 3,000 people 8,000 miles away in the Falkland Islands, also watching and waiting.
A good deal for the UK also needs to be a good deal for our Overseas Territories. And no deal remains better than a bad deal.