The Brexiteers probably think that the Fishing industry contributes more than the Financial Services industry to the UK’s GDP… reality is that Fishing industry is worth about 0.4% GDP… whereas financial services is worth about 7% GDP.
Not that Fishing will benefit from Brexit either…
… if we leave both the customs union and single market. It is possible, though not guaranteed, that we could negotiate a zero-tariff arrangement as part of a trade deal, but that still leaves a host of problems. Outside the customs union, fish products will face rules-of-origin requirements - a particular problem for the processing industry, which imports fish from outside the EU and then exports its products into it. If those products are disqualified from the EU’s tariff liberalisation, much of the industry could become unviable.
As for the single market, not only will fish products face new non-tariff barriers, such as labelling, but they will need to undergo border checks when entering the EU. At the moment Calais does not have the necessary inspection posts. Even if it builds some during the transition period, fish exporters could find that their products get stuck in daily tailbacks - a disaster for an industry which depends on rapid transport and freshness of its goods.
This problem will also not be resolved by signing up for a Norway-type solution. The EEA specifically excludes agriculture and fisheries, and the UK and EU will have to negotiate a bespoke fisheries agreement under brutal time constraints.
We concentrate a lot on fishing itself. Fish processing is somewhat less romantic. It does, however, account for around 75% of the sector’s economic output. Crucially, it also employs around 14,000 people from the EU. Most of these workers would fall into May’s hated ‘low-skilled’ bracket and it is unclear how the government plans to persuade all these people to remain or hire new workers to replace them.
There’s more. While we export the bulk of our fish to the EU, the majority of the fish we import comes from outside it, in particular Norway and Iceland. This includes 90% of our cod. British importers are therefore less exposed to Brexit than exporters. While a bad Brexit will therefore not much affect the fish on our dinner tables, it could prove fatal to our fishing communities. It’s again a question of asymmetrical power: if things go wrong the EU can debilitate our export trade by imposing steep tariffs and other barriers, but because we don’t buy much from them, we can’t retaliate. Who will be British fishing’s answer to the fabled German car manufacturers begging the government to give the EU a good deal?
Then we have the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) itself. The CFP has become Brexit’s whipping-boy - the EU child that not even devoted europhiles can publicly bring themselves to love. And it is true that the CFP has given fishers a raw deal in many ways. But, as so frequently in this debate, the real culprit is the UK government, not the EU - and there is no utopia waiting for when we leave.