October 15, 2020
It looked, at the start of the week, as if we were heading for a fishy Brexit, with the make or break decisions revolving around the quota that French fisherman could take out of UK waters and for how long.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was in talks with Frost last Friday morning, with just a few days of negotiations to go before the 27 EU Heads of State and Government hold their summit to discuss the next steps.
In an analysis that the EU side does not share, Frost had suggested this week that progress was being made on state aid and that fisheries were the biggest stumbling block to an agreement that could be in place by the end of the transition period.
Eight member states – France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Germany and Sweden – have a particular interest and are yet to offer Barnier any flexibility.
Barnier has privately said that the key will be how the French President, Emmanuel Macron, reacts in the coming weeks to Downing Street’s increasingly forthright rhetoric about the need for the EU to budge on its position or risk scuppering a deal
Barnier has informed the 27 member states that Brexit will necessarily mean a reduced level of catches in British waters in an attempt to persuade the bloc to present a more realistic negotiating position.
The loss of any revenues, currently earned by the EU’s fishing fleet in British waters, would be relatively small compared with the wider trade deal, but it risks creating internal division as those who lose out seek to be compensated with extra catches elsewhere in European waters.
There are growing fears, within Brussels, that Emmanuel Macron, and France's stubborn fisheries demands, could torpedo the entire UK-EU trade deal. The EU's own chief negotiator has insisted that member-states in the EU that Brexit will necessarily mean a reduced level of catches for them in British waters. However, these eight countries, led by French President Macron, have refused to back down on their demands. From the UK's position, the EU is insisting that things will have to change when someone leaves the club, and they cannot expect the same benefits, then, similarly, the UK can say the EU cannot enjoy the same benefits in UK waters if we are leaving the club.
The Prime Minister warned Mr Macron on Saturday that the UK is prepared to leave the EU without a comprehensive free-trade deal and on Australian-style terms if a breakthrough could not be found. During the exchange, Mr Johnson insisted his preference would be to leave with an agreement but emphasised progress needed to be made in problem areas, such a fishing and the so-called level playing field, ahead of a crucial EU summit next week.
However, on Sunday morning France's Minister of the Sea said French fishermen would be better off with no-deal rather than accepting "unacceptable" proposals by Britain in Brexit fishing talks.
The deadline for this to happen is this Thursday, after we have gone to print. Short of a last-minute fudge to extend the deadline, the dreaded heart breaks happen this week.
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