UK fishermen take to the water demanding speedy Brexit

Clara WRIGHT
Demonstrating fishermen demanded a speedy Brexit (AFP Photo/Andy Buchanan)

Newcastle (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Starting off from North Shields, a small town in northeast England that has been a fishermen's haven since 1225, a dozen ships sailed up the River Tyne to Newcastle on Friday demanding Brexit by March 29.

Around 50 fishermen were on board the boats, which were festooned with banners reading "Save Britain's Fish" and "You've Betrayed Us Again" -- a day after MPs in Westminster voted in favour of delaying Brexit.

The demonstration was to urge the country's leaders to "ensure we leave on the 29th of March," the currently scheduled date of departure, according to organisers.

It came the day before former UKIP leader Nigel Farage starts out on his March to Leave, from nearby Sunderland to London.

"The fishing will start this historic march of the British people to our capital to send a message to our elected representatives to obey our democratic instruction and that our industry won't accept a second surrender of Britain and our fishing," said the organisers.

Angus Murray, the 60-year-old captain of the "Lady Pearl", who has been on the waters since he was 14, told AFP that the British fishing fleet has been "decimated" by European rules.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) allows European vessels to access the fishing grounds of other Member States, provided that they comply with quotas.

- 'We won the vote' -

Gary Dunbar, fishermen of 26 years, said: "You fish fishes, but you can't land them. What's the point?"

Despite his recent purchase of a 23-metre vessel, equipped with two large fishing nets, he explained that he does "small jobs" to make a living.

"I'm a little bit worried. It's soul-destroying to see your catch go away," added deckhand George Leslie.

He hopes that Brexit will return the industry back to the days of his father, "when there were no quotas, no waste."

British Prime Minister Theresa May promised that Britain would be able to set its fishing quotas and negotiate access to its waters after Brexit.

"She has lied and lied, why would we believe her?" said Gawain Towler, a spokesman for Farage's new Brexit Party, adding that the issue was "deeply symbolic" to Britain as an island nation.

May's withdrawal treaty with Brussels provides for a 21-month transition period, during which European fishermen will keep their access to British waters and the British will have to respect European fishing quotas.

This agreement, which was massively rejected in January and on Tuesday, will be submitted a third time to parliament by March 20.

Fishing for Leave said they hoped the protest would highlight "the death sentence Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement or MPs thwarting Brexit presents to British fishing and coastal communities".

"It's a sensitive subject," said Scottish skipper Derek Hughes.

"Leaving the EU may not be as good for our exports, but at least we will have control over our waters."

Around 30 counter-demonstrators waving European flags were waiting for the flotilla at Newcastle wharf, located around 13 kilometres inland from North Shields.

Unlike the rest of the region, Newcastle voted to remain in the EU.

"Who are you to dictate our future? We won the vote," fisherman Gary Dunbar said to the counter-protesters as they docked.

"I don't understand their points," countered Christina Mueller Stewart, a German who has lived in the UK since 1988.

"The fishing industry has been decimated by British government, not by the EU."