Brexit: Cornwall shellfish merchant criticises government
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Against all odds, Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU after nine months of incredibly fraught negotiations. The deal is without a doubt a huge triumph for the Prime Minister, who two years ago won a thumping majority at the general election with the promise to “get Brexit done”. The journey there was not an easy one, though, as the FTA was preceded by a debilitating political period for both Brussels and the UK.
The EU currently has 27 other member states and perhaps not surprisingly, each one of these countries looks out for its own interests.
Until the end, one sticking point remained: fish.
And so a trade deal between the fifth-biggest economy on earth and the world’s largest free-trade bloc was nearly derailed on several occasions because of a dispute over whose fishermen could catch what fish, in what numbers, for how long, and in whose waters.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, historian and head of an Icelandic free-market think tank Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson argued the way the EU treated Britain during the talks, particularly in regard to fishing, has “shown Iceland why it should never join”.
He said: “Britain should have made sure fisheries were outside the trade agreement.
“Obviously the EU was not ready to accept that.
“And this whole issue with fisheries in the bloc is only making it less desirable for Iceland to consider joining the EU.
“We have a lot of interests in the fishing industry as a large part of our economy relies on fisheries.
“So some people in Iceland are saying, ‘Just look at the way the EU is treating Britain!'”
He added: “They are not making a good example for countries like Norway and Iceland if they want these countries to join.
“They are not sending a good message.”
In 2015, Iceland’s former Prime Minister breathed a sigh of relief that his country never joined the EU.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said: “I am pretty sure our recovery couldn’t have happened if we had been part of the EU.”
Mr Gunnlaugsson argued that if his country’s application, made in the midst of an economic collapse in 2009, had succeeded, then Iceland might have suffered a similar fate to Greece, with its long-running economic collapse, or Ireland, which saw its public debt skyrocket as the government took on the bad debts of the banking sector.
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He added: “We might have even gone the other way and become a bankrupt country.
“If all these debts had been in euros, and we had been forced to do the same as Ireland or Greece, and take responsibility for the debts of the failed banks.
“That would have been catastrophic for us economically.”
Today, Iceland is a world away from the fraught days of 2009, when Mr Gunnlaugsson’s predecessor, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, saw EU membership as a way of rescuing the country.
Yet the country’s EU application subsequently foundered.
Reluctance in both Brussels and Reykjavik to broach the awkward subject of fishing quotas slowed negotiations, while at home popular feeling changed as the North Atlantic island slowly dug its way out of trouble.
Mr Guðmundsson described the accession talks as “complicated”.
He said: “The government in power was divided on the issue. One party was in favour, the other one was not.
“It is very difficult to apply for EU membership. They are very complicated negotiations.
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“It is a complicated process, so having a split government did not help.”
In the end, Iceland suspended its EU bid in 2013, and Mr Gunnlaugsson withdrew the country’s application two years later.
Iceland’s membership of the EEA allows full access to the single market, its largest trading partner, but requires the country to accept EU rules such as free movement.
Legal issues are handled by the European Free Trade Area (Efta) court, which is independent and although its decisions are often informed by case law established by European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings.
Norway and Liechtenstein are also members of the EEA and Efta.
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