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Fish and passports mean more days lost to madness

Week in Review: Fish and passports mean more days lost to madness
Ian Dunt By Ian Dunt 23 March 2018

After a while you start to tune out, just so you can preserve a few brain cells. We lost an entire day of the news agenda to a man throwing dead fish off a boat. Another day went to a decision on where passports are made, which itself followed a seemingly interminable debate about their colour.

It quite often feels like the country has entered a senile phase. There is effectively nothing going on in parliament. There is no real policy agenda in health, or education, or national security, or business, or industry, outside of Brexit, which itself is a vacuum. Instead we have these colourful bits of theatre in place of politics. It's like being fed a plate of crisps for dinner.

But even here it is worth scratching the surface of the debate, because underneath it you find a web of lies, lobbying and basic trade reality. The gears of an economy and commercial law keep on turning, even if we try to cover them up with clown masks.

The fish debacle is a case in point. Fishing for Leave is supposedly outraged that Britain has not taken back control of its fish stocks during transition and wanted to highlight this by throwing dead fish overboard. This is a reference to the waste of fish under the EU quota system.

It's true the EU used to have a problem with managing fish stocks, which led to many fishermen discarding their catches to stay on the right side of the quota. Now those rules are about to change with strict new enforcement protocols on discards. But that requires a complex surveillance system and many fishing groups are desperate to avoid it.

It's for this reason that campaigners want out before the new rules come into force. They want the ability to discard fish, not the freedom to avoid doing so.

The entire European system of fish quotas is designed to prevent overfishing. If we were to just mark out territorial waters and let each country fish as much as it likes, there would be no coordination and no sensible allocation of resources. That's why the quota system, which assesses fish stocks and then parcels them out to countries according to a pre-designed system, exists. The British may not have got a great deal on this, but to present an exit from the system as an act of rebellion against waste is deeply cynical.

There is a similar mixture of ignorance and cynicism in the passport debate. British firm De La Rue lost the contract to make post-Brexit passports, which went instead to Gemalto, a Franco-Dutch company. The UK company's chief executive asked why "the British government thinks it's a sensible decision to… offshore the manufacture of a British icon". He has considerable cheek, given he provides services to two-thirds of the world's countries. Apparently breast-beating nationalism is not good enough for them but an an absolute requirement when it comes to us.

The Daily Mail berated the government in the most unhinged terms imaginable, saying ministers hated "our country, its history, culture and the people's sense of identity". Tory MP Priti Patel called it "a disgraceful decision", "perverse" and a "national humiliation".