No-deal Brexit panic: Belgium facing END of fishing industry and 40,000 job losses
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Flanders, the country’s Dutch-speaking northern region, faces losing tens of thousands of jobs because of its close trade ties with Britain. Many businesses were spooked by Boris Johnson’s warning last week that the UK was now preparing to quit the post-Brexit transition without a deal unless the EU agrees to a “fundamental change of approach” in the trade wrangle. Hilde Crevits, economy minister for the Flanders government, told the FT: “The numbers are clear. A no deal would have a very negative impact on Flanders.
“It is precisely these economy consequences that we are trying to avoid.”
Hylke Vandenbussche, a professor at KU Leuven, said a no-deal Brexit would lead to around 42,000 job losses in Belgium, with as many of two-thirds of those in Flanders.
The region’s ports, Antwerp and Zeebrugge, are two of the main routes for British products being shipped to continental Europe.
And as much as eight percent of Flanders’ exports go to the UK, which makes it only second to Ireland for reliance on the British market.
The region accounts for 85 percent of the total Belgian exports to the UK.
Recent studies, cited by the Flemish government, said it would face a 1.8 percent hit to GDP even if the UK and EU manage to secure a free-trade agreement.
Belgium’s food and drink processing industry would likely face a steeper decline than any other sector of the country’s economy, according to the KU Leuven study.
Its fishing industry would also face significant disruption, with the federal government one of eight EU nations fighting to maintain access to Britain’s coastal waters for European vessels in the Brexit talks.
Flemish politicians are holding out hope for a 17th-century charter to ensure future fishing opportunities in British waters.
King Charles II granted 50 boats from Bruges the right to fish in UK waters for “eternity” in 1666 after staying in the city during the English Civil War that ended with the execution of his father, Charles I.
Ms Crevits said legal assessments of the “Fisheries Privilege Charter” show it would still apply after a no-deal Brexit.
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She said: “A first legal analysis indicates that – should no agreement be found between the EU and the United Kingdom on access to the 12-mile zone – this Privilege Charter still applies.”
“Belgium will not fail to invoke the privilege,” she added.
Flemish fishermen make more than 50 percent of their revenue, around €40 million per year, from catches in British waters.
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Ms Crevits said: “In the event of a hard Brexit, this existence of the entire industry is threatened.”
Earlier this year the European Council announced a €5 billion special Brexit reserve to help soften the blow of a no-deal Brexit.
Much of the cash is expected to go to fishermen in France, Belgium and Ireland to make up for lack of access to British waters.
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