Great ExpectationsFarage's Phoney Fishing for Support
Rev Joe Haward comes from a family with nearly three hundred years in the industry and they do not buy the Brexitoric around fishing
Nigel Farage’s brand of nationalism has captured the imagination of many British fishermen. His promises that Brexit would lead to the UK’s fishing industry “taking back control” of their waters resonated with many small boat fishermen.
A poll in 2016 suggested that over 90% of those who work in the industry voted to Leave in the EU Referendum. The reality of economic hardship many coastal fishing communities have faced over the last thirty years, and what such an economic struggle has brought, combined with a sense of an eroded identity, has enabled the likes of Farage to manufacture a suitable target for their anger: the European Union and immigrants.
Overfishing and the 80s
The European Common Fisheries Policy was adopted in 1983, meaning that members of the European Economic Community (EEC) were subject to fishing quotas, and no longer able to fish on an open basis. The UK’s waters and fish stocks were now a resource to be shared with other members of the EEC, and many UK fishermen have since felt that they have had a raw deal. Farage has expertly captured these feelings of betrayal and resentment.
The very fact that over a third of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or partly owned by just five wealthy families, that Nigel Farage, as a member of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, only attended one out of forty-two meetings, and that the UK government’s allocation of the national quota is unfairly stacked against small boat fishermen who have just 6% of the national quota share, will do little to dissuade local fishing communities that the problems they face are from the EU.
Farage’s brand of anti-EU nationalism has used nostalgic longing for a mythical past, the ideology of what fishing represents to the British people, and fear of immigration destroying ‘Britishness’, to galvanise the support of coastal towns, like the one I grew up in, lived, and worked.
I come from a fishing family: eight generations of oyster growers who continue to farm oysters off the coast of Essex, something we have been doing for nearly 300 years. My father, Richard, the seventh generation, could be a poster boy for fishermen. A towering figure, with a large white beard, white hair, piercing blue eyes, and sea weathered skin, he has been instrumental in the fishing industry for most of his life.
In the late 60s, he was transporting herring into Lowestoft market. He shipped oysters all over the country in sacks or packed in wooden boxes, sent on trains or the back of fruit and veg trucks.
By the late 70s, he was shipping fish all across the UK and into Europe. Around twenty boats were bringing fish into him, and he’d send huge amounts of Grey mullet, as well as bass, herring, and sprat, into London’s Billingsgate market, whilst tonnes of small Dover soles were sent over to Holland, with my father often delivering them there himself. I remember as a child in the 80s being woken up in the night and travelling to Billingsgate with my father to deliver fish ready for the early morning market.
However, the 80s were a tough time for the industry. “There just wasn’t as much fish around,” my father told me. “Not only that, but not as many people wanted to do the work. All in all, it was a difficult time.”
I remember how tough it was on our family, so I asked my father what he thinks of Farage and Johnson’s promises of what Brexit can deliver for the fishing industry today.
“Great expectations are what Farage is promoting, yet I don’t believe it,” he told me. “There is no good having a product you can’t sell or have to sell at a vastly reduced value. If we come out of the EU without a deal then what will happen with tariffs, the paperwork accompanying those tariffs, points of entry into Europe to sell the fish?”
With over 70% of UK seafood exports going to the EU his questions raise valid concerns.
My father has witnessed the reality of political rhetoric throughout his life within the industry, and seen the way the working class, including local fishermen’s interests, are traded off for the benefit of big business, which is why he doesn’t buy into Farage’s hyperbole. “He was telling UK fishermen that Brexit would bring big chances, so they voted for it,” he told me: “I can’t see it myself.”
Farage is a blunt, absurd, and dangerous tool in the most complex of situations. But such a tool appears to resonate deeply with those living in our coastal communities. His perceived ‘bloke who likes a pint down the pub’ persona has given him an ear to those whose pride is found in their working-class roots, who feel utterly betrayed and abandoned by politicians.
There is a deep sense of identity bound up in fishing, where what it means to be a fisherman is what it means to be British. Yet the struggles of the industry have created an identity crisis. Farage, with his nostalgic, cultural-Christian, anti-immigrant, ‘hero-of-the-working-class’ nationalism has given many of those within the UK’s fishing trade a way to voice that identity crisis.
However, the promises Farage and Johnson offer are wrapped in mendacious ‘Brexitoric’. The people who will suffer will not be the likes of Nigel Farage with his millionaire friends, but the very fishermen and communities who put their trust in him.