If the Brexit negotiations fail, Flemish fishermen want to claim a 354-year-old privilege, with which the British King Charles II gave fifty fishermen from Bruges ‘eternal access’ to British waters.
Fishing rights remain an issue during the negotiation of a trade agreement with Great Britain. The European Union is in principle (like Belgium) working to maintain full access to British waters rich in fish after Brexit, but the United Kingdom wants to limit that access and also proposes to renegotiate the rights every year.
The issue is particularly sensitive in Member States such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark, whose territorial waters border those of the United Kingdom. To get the negotiations out of the doldrums, European negotiator Michel Barnier has asked the member states to seek a mutual consensus on fisheries, but the European member states do not want to back down, as it turned out after a meeting between the French State Secretary for European Affairs Clément Beaune and the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok.
‘We want a status quo. Our fishermen are not Brexit’s adjustment variable. They shouldn’t pay for the British choices, ”Beaune said. ‘In order to be successful for our fishermen, for everyone, it is extremely important that France, the Netherlands, all of Europe, remain united’, the Dutchman in turn emphasized.
“Eternal Access” to UK waters
If that does not work, Flanders will have something else to hand, as became clear during a meeting with the EU ambassadors. The Belgian permanent representative referred to a privilege from 1666, with which the British King Charles II gave fifty fishermen from Bruges eternal access to British waters, in gratitude for their hospitality. The Flemish and Belgian governments have been aware of this document for some time, which may soon be able to help.
‘We went in search of old pieces that might exist and that is how the privilege from 1666 surfaced,’ said Flemish Minister of Fisheries Hilde Crevits (CD&V) on Thursday. The world today on Radio 1. ‘This must show that 50 Bruges fishermen are allowed to fish in the twelve-mile zone off the coast of the United Kingdom forever. We have a fleet of 67 vessels, so this privilege could be a comfort for many of our fishermen, ”said Crevits.
Or that Privilege of the Visscherie legally binding is questionable, but the Ambassador has referred to it as a ‘historical fait diverse that shows that the links between Belgian and British fisheries are very intertwined and that access to British waters is very important to us’, could still be heard in EU circles.