"Bruges fishermen can continue fishing in British waters after Brexit thanks to 1666 Charter" Author: Michaël Torfs

Thu 06/07/2017 - 13:04 Michaël Torfs A privilege issued by King Charles II in 1666 grants 50 Bruges fishermen the right to go fishing in British waters "for eternity", i.e. also after the Brexit will have been completed and regulations concerning British waters have been changed. This was suggested by the Flemish PM Geert Bourgeois in the VRT's current affairs programme Terzake.

The British government wants to seize the occasion of the Brexit to reclaim waters for British fishermen. Environment Minister Michael Gove suggested that Britain may extend its waters for fishing, which would be bad news for Flemish fishermen. 

However, speaking in Terzake, the Flemish PM Geert Bourgeois (nationalist) suggested a hypothetical solution: a deal going back to... 1666. It's apparently a charter issued by England's King Charles II, in which he grants 50 fishermen from Bruges "eternal access" to British waters. Bourgeois unrolled a copy of the document in the studio (pictures).

"The British were afraid it would still have legal grounds"

When EU regulations will have been wiped out due to the Brexit, a new legal frame will come into force. The London Convention from 1964 would be an option, but Britain could ignore this one to boost its present situation. "This would allow them to effectively ban any foreign fishermen from their waters, contrary to the London Convention", Lisa Lust, spokeswoman for Bourgeois, told the VRT.

However, Mr Bourgeois was thinking of another option, the charter from 1666. This was discovered in the Bruges archives in 1963. A Bruges alderman next ventured out into British waters to test it out. But while the Belgian dared the British, these decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

"He deliberately had himself arrested by the British hoping they would take him to court. However, this didn't happen. Documents from the British archives later revealed that it was advised against taking the Belgian to court, because of fears concerning the 1666 Charter. They were afraid it would still be in force", explains Lisa Lust.

This being said, Lust admits chances are small the 1666 Charter would still apply, adding: "It's not completely impossible that it still grants Bruges fishermen certain rights".

It's not completely impossible that the 1666 Charter still has some legal ground

About the "Privilegie der Visscherie"

The "Privilegie der Visscherie", a king of fisheries privilege, was issued by Charles II of England in October 1666 to express his gratitude towards the city of Bruges, to thank them for their hospitality during his stay there in 1656 to 1659.