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Wednesday 4 July 2018

Britain will take back control her fishing waters from 2021, states a government white paper released today. The 200-nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” surrounding the coastline will still be accessible to foreign fisheries, the level of access under a Norway-style quota arrangement will be negotiated with other European nations.

Norway and Iceland retain 80% and 95% exclusivity for domestic fishing crews. The government says there is no reason why the UK should be in a “weaker position”, adding that it would explore a “fairer allocation” based on the distribution of fishing stocks, prejudiced against the wasteful discarding of fish the EU’s policies so excel at.

This is encouraging, but quotas will not be negotiated until the transition period, during trade negotiations. We still cannot discount Britain’s fisheries being expended as a bargaining chip.

The Times, along with the rest of Fleet Street gives doomsday warnings the prime minister will be presenting a goods plus agriculture compromise to ministers at Chequers on Friday.

Theresa May hopes to soften attending Leavers’ resolve by appointing Remainers Philip Hammond and Greg Clark to spell out dire predictions for the economy in the event of a no deal. Sound familiar? They will be doing the same for the other, less democrat possibilities, including May’s preferred Brexit only in name.

To further unlevel the playing field, key adviser, Olly Robbins will also be at hand, but chief trade negotiator, Crawford Falconer will not.

Robert Peston covers the quagmire of options in his Facebook blog. On the useless new customs partnership proposal (covered in yesterday’s Brexit Brunch), he writes:

Theresa May may ask EU governments to collect customs duties on behalf of the UK from companies based in their respective countries, but she knows they will respond with a decisive no, nay, never.

Which may seem unfair. But actually this would only be a problem if there were an imminent prospect of a future British government wanting to impose higher tariffs than EU ones. And certainly the political climate now – outside of Trumpian America – is for lower tariffs.

He goes on to correctly point out that such an open customs arrangement would only function if regulatory standards for all goods were aligned, thereby opening the door for an extra-territorial international court, basically the European Court of Justice.

May has kicked the can interminably, Friday will be a reckoning we’ve long waited for, but by the time it comes, we’ll wish we’d been able to wait a little longer. With Parliament having well and truly shown its intention to remain in the Single Market, the prime minister knows she can suffer a rebellion from the likes of Johnson, Gove and Fox so long as the incident as framed as Brexit-only. A leadership challenge can be quashed if she rallies her Remainer troops and those many feeble MPs eager to avoid making enemies at Conservative headquarters. Sadly, this is quite doable. Even if she loses, there’s every chance a similarly inadequate contender like Jeremy Hunt will replace her.

Jacob-Rees Mogg is absolutely right to raise the stakes by warning of dissent from the back benches. But in a chamber of 650, will the sixty-odd members of the European Research Group be able to sufficiently leverage the democratic mandate given by the 17.4m to bin May’s appeasement plans. The way in which these numbers do not reflect one another – how can the House of Commons be considered representative when there is such a disconnect? – says everything about our political system’s urgent need for reform.

The fisheries paper only offers a speck of light in a dark week.