Sunday, November 21, 2004


While the shenanigans in Brussels continue to entertain us, Christopher Booker is his column today chooses for his lead "The battle of Hastings", thus reminding us of why this dire construct which calls itself the European Union is so loathed.

The story, then, of this new "battle" centres around the strange case of Paul Joy, the leader of the fishermen in Hastings, Sussex, and, as Booker observes, it "strikingly llustrates the gulf between our fishermen and the ministers and officials of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who rule their lives on behalf of Brussels."

Therein lies the crunch. While the politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg prance and posture, and the crooks gather up their salaries and state pensions, real people with real lives are being totally screwed up by a system which does nothing other than interfere with their lives and turn them into criminals.

At the sharp edge are Mr Joy and his colleague Graeme Bosom, who face criminal prosecution and possible fines of £50,000 for breaking fishing quota rules - even though Defra admits that there are no quota rules for them to break.

He and Mr Bosom operate small fishing boats which are daily hauled down the Hastings shingle, part of the largest such beach-based fleet in Europe. They have been fishing like this in Hastings since the Middle Ages, and in 1588, for their services in repelling the Spanish Armada, the local fishermen were granted the right to fish the neighbouring grounds in perpetuity.

The Hastings boats are small, less than 10 metres long, so they are not subject to many of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy that apply to larger boats. As Franz Fischler, the EU's former fisheries commissioner, has confirmed, they do not have to keep logbooks or have special permits. Nor do they require individual quotas to fish, though their catches must remain within an annual limit allocated by Defra from the total cod-catch permitted by Brussels in the Channel (of which French fishermen receive 18,000 tonnes and English fishermen 1,750 tonnes).

In September 2003, cod were so abundant in the waters off Hastings that whenever Mr Joy was out fishing for plaice he could not avoid pulling in a "by-catch" of mature cod. He was not troubled by this, since Hastings was still way below its yearly allocation, and each catch was registered by a Defra inspector.

It was not until the following month that Mr Joy was told he faced criminal charges for breaching his licensing conditions by landing too many cod. Defra, it appears, had decided that the annual cod allowance for the Hastings fishermen should be divided into 12 equal portions, each to be regarded as a "monthly allocation".

Both Mr Joy and Mr Bosom, similarly charged, are on legal aid. The mystery to be unravelled by their lawyers, who include experts in both European and criminal law, is how they can be charged for exceeding a notional "monthly allocation" when, at the time of their alleged offence, three-quarters of the way through the year, only 53 per cent of their annual allocation had been caught.

The case is so puzzling that Mr Joy and his colleague have won cross-party support, from both their Labour MP, Michael Foster, and the local prospective Tory candidate, Mark Coote, who has also now been backed by the Tories' front-bench fisheries spokesman, Owen Paterson MP. Mr Foster, himself a lawyer, has written to the fisheries minister, Ben Bradshaw, asking why, across the EU, it appears to be only in Britain that small inshore fishermen are penalised in this way.

Mr Paterson, who recently visited Hastings as part of a nation-wide tour of fishing communities, says: "At every port I visit, from Shetland to Newlyn, from Fleetwood to Whitby, I find similar anomalies, as evidence of a ministry which seems to have declared war on our fishermen."

Meanwhile the fate of Mr Joy and Mr Bosom will be decided in Lewes Crown Court in January.
How strange it is that the criminals are in charge in Brussels while honest men have to fight for their livelihoods in the criminal courts of Britain.

For his second story, Booker brings to the fore the situation observed in the Blog where the BBC "You and Yours" programme had covered the chaos that will be unleashed on January 1 when John Prescott's new Part P regulations come into force, applying to all domestic electrical work – yet had completely ignored the EU dimension.

Interestingly, as I write this piece, the BBC Radio 4 one o’clock news programme has just run an interview with EU information commissioner Margot Wallström in a piece without an obvious "news hook". As such, it can only qualify as gratuitous propaganda, part of the low-grade barrage of pro-EU material that the BBC continually trots out, while avoiding any news on the malign effects of the construct it so loves.

Back to Booker, his third piece picks on the Treasury report by Alan Wood, billed as being a great attack by Gordon Brown on the failings of the EU's "procurement rules". This we have also covered in the Blog.

That leave Booker to conclude with an update on the "coup" pulled off by Nigel Farage last Thursday in Strasbourg. "Even before starting work," writes Booker, "it seems Mr Barroso's team could be facing embarrassments as great as those which led to the resignation of the entire Commission in 1999. How apt, it may be thought, that this was set in train by a party which wishes to see Britain out of the EU altogether.

Funnily enough, Margot Wallström didn’t mention this in her piece for the BBC today. I wonder why not.

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