Tomorrow, the Fisheries Bill will be back before the House of Lords, with a controversial last-minute amendment inserted by the Government targeting the islands still in play.
The bill provides a framework for fisheries management after the Brexit transition period ends and the UK is no longer part of the Common Fisheries Policy.
It inserted a permissive extent clause that will allow it to extend provisions in the bill to the Crown Dependencies without their consent.
The Lords Constitution Select Committee has reviewed the move, which is strongly opposed by Guernsey and Jersey, and argued that it is contrary to long-standing practice.
‘We recommend that the bill be amended so that consent of the governments of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (as appropriate) is required prior to the use of these powers,’ it said.
In a response to the committee, Lord Gardiner, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, said there had been extensive consultation with the islands.
‘Our strong preference was to include the clause with the consent of all the Crown Dependencies,’ he said.
‘That is why we have worked over the last 10 months with good intentions, because clearly we did desire that consent.
‘Unfortunately, despite having given as long as possible for discussion, to date, the consent of Guernsey and Jersey has not been secured. The government had to make a decision having reached the last amending stage of the bill. To protect the whole of the UK family, we decided to introduce the PEC via government amendment.
‘You asked why we introduced the clause and yet said that it is not our intention to use it without consent. We are mindful of the constitutional responsibility the UK has for the international relations of the Crown Dependencies under international law. It is therefore important that we have an effective mechanism to support the Crown Dependencies in meeting these obligations. The need is stronger now than ever as we move away from the Common Fisheries Policy and we take our place on the international stage as an independent coastal state with all the responsibilities that entails.’
The clause is included as a matter of last resort, he said.
‘It would only be used in the most extreme circumstances and after full consultation and the exhaustion of other options. The government felt it is right that we should introduce this clause to ensure that the UK and the Crown Dependencies can fulfil their international obligations in all circumstances.
‘To be clear, we do not currently have any specific concerns which we would envisage using the PEC to address. I am very aware that the Crown Dependencies take their international obligations extremely seriously; and I am confident that they would meet any required commitments, legislating domestically if required, in any normal circumstances.’
However, he said, it is possible to envisage a scenario where the UK needed to implement fisheries measures across the UK and the Crown Dependencies to underpin international agreements or to implement measures to ensure that the UK and the Crown Dependencies do not breach international law prohibiting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
‘In the event of such an unforeseen event occurring, there are steps we would take before we would consider activating the PEC without consent: we would ask the Crown Dependencies to consider introducing their own legislation; we would also work with them on considering any other available solutions; and if those steps failed we would consult with the Crown Dependencies on utilising the PEC, hopefully securing their consent. Only in the most extreme circumstances would the PEC be used without that consent. The clause serves to protect the British family.
‘Were the UK or a Crown Dependency found to have breached international law on illegal fishing, sanctions might include a ban on the export of fish and fish products for all of the UK and each of the Crown Dependencies.’