This morning, a fishing boat called Holladays sailed down the Thames loaded with right-wing MPs, Nigel Farage, and a bunch of journos. It was a protest at the fact that the transition deal May has negotiated will keep Britain in the Common Fishing Policy throughout, i.e. until December 2020. Farage as mentioned, was on the boat (of course); Rees-Mogg was not, choosing to stay on shore in a move you may or may not choose to look at metaphorically.
I get why a lot of people in the British fishing industry are upset at this turn of events. A lot of promises have been thrown their way around a Brexit nirvana, and none of it seems to be coming true. Having said that, there is a lot about this protest I don’t get. Almost everything to do with it other than the main thrust for having it, really.
The line goes that since joining the EEC in ’73, fishing in this country has been in steady decline because foreign fishing vessels are getting in there and making big hauls. The ERG has all sorts of numbers about EU fishing boats fishing British territorial waters dry that I shan’t bore you with – for the sake of argument, let’s say their stats are bang on. Why then have a protest that is explicitly about wasting haddock? The British fishing industry isn’t getting enough fish and to demonstrate this you are throwing haddock into the Thames like a gangster rapper distributing $100 bills? Isn’t the unintended symbolism of this that you have more fish than you know what to do with, or am I missing something big here? The fish were taken from the channel and thrown into the Thames. The geography here seems counterintuitive – are they saying that the Thames is properly British and the Channel is questionable in that regard, thus they are “bringing the fish home”? If that’s so, doesn’t that completely counteract the whole point of the protest, basically conceding that the fishing waters affected by the CFP are international, i.e. not really British? I’ll just stop with this line of questioning now.
Instead, I’m interested in the ERG’s interest and involvement in the protest, particularly Rees-Mogg’s. He was interviewed at the publicity stunt where it was pointed out to him, after Rees-Mogg had done his usual spiel about how the UK really had all the power in the negotiations despite appearances, that “it does appear that we’re the ones making most of the concessions”, to which JRM answered: “That shows that we know how to negotiate”. Excuse me? If I’ve understood this correctly, Rees-Mogg is asserting that the superior negotiator in any transaction will be the one that gets the least out of the deal. Interesting view.
As always, I come back to some basics: May has once again conceded to most of what Brussels demands. She will continue doing this until the very end; the essence of her Brexit approach is talk big, then fold. If Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn’t like it, then it is well within his power to change it by making a move against the Prime Minister. It seems to me if he really cared about getting out of the Common Fishery Policy immediately that much, he’d push for a Tory leadership contest. I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb here in saying that this would almost certainly be more effective than standing by the side of the Thames watching British fishermen waste fish.