Belgium has floated the idea that it could invoke a Royal Charter from 1666 guaranteeing its fishermen the right to permanently fish in British waters if there is no Brexit deal.
While speaking on Belgian national radio, a spokesperson for the Flemish Fisheries Minister reportedly said that, “our goal is to reach a negotiated deal [with the UK]… But if we don’t reach a deal, we could invoke the charter. It dates back to 1666 but it was confirmed by a UK lawyer in 1820.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly threatened to slam the door on Brexit negotiations if a trade deal is not agreed with the EU by an October 15 deadline. Such a possibility sent alarm through the Belgian government, which faces the possibility of not being able to access profitable UK waters for fishing if no deal is struck.
The treaty was signed around 350 years ago by King Charles II which allowed 50 Flemish fishermen from Bruges “eternal rights” to fish in English waters. When the charter was first penned in the year 1666, Bruges was part of the Netherlands, then under Spanish dominion. King Charles II had signed it as a gesture of thanks to the Flemish after he had stayed there in the period between his exile and his return to the throne in England, a duration which dated from 1656 to 1659.
It is widely documented that British vessels in EU waters manage to catch about eight times less fish than EU vessels do in UK waters.
A UK government official pointed out to The Telegraph that, “one wonders if it is in Belgium’s, or anyone’s interests, to start going back to such historic claims. A lot could get put back on the table.”
A UK government spokesman also told the newspaper that, “we suspect that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea might supersede this charter.”
Reportedly, and in a sign that they are taking the possible invocation of the 1666 agreement seriously, the self-governing Flanders region of Belgium has reportedly dispatched a copy of the charter to EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. The EU has confirmed receipt of Belgium’s letter, but is yet to comment on how seriously it will take it.
Face-to-face negotiations between the UK government and the EU in order to try and break the deadlock have continued over the past week. A Downing Street spokesperson has been widely quoted as saying that, “we have had useful discussions this week.”
“Progress has been made in some areas, however there still remains differences on some important issues. We continue to want a free trade agreement but it is important we can agree on some issues,” the spokesperson added.