Brexit: EU ‘wouldn’t take us on’ over fisheries says Mummery
Trade talks are continuing in Brussels over the weekend, but UK sources told this publication it was looking increasingly likely the Brexit transition period will end on December 31 without an agreement. The hardline position taken by Mr Barnier, Express.co.uk understands, was influenced by EU coastal states including Belgium as well as France where President Macron and French officials told Mr Barnier to stick to a “hardline approach”.
Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, told France Inter radio: “It is something [Brexit talks] he [Mr Macron] follows very closely and is very important for France.”
A Whitehall source close to the negotiations told Express.co.uk a deal “appeared to be out the window” but stressed there was still some “hope”.
They added: “The EU needs to change position, it’s the coastal nations which are making this difficult.”
Fisheries remain the core issue between both sides which EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is attempting to get the UK side to give in on.
Despite the fishing industry accounting for only a tiny proportion of the EU and UK economies, it carries huge political resonance on both sides of the Channel.
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The European Parliament has set a deadline of Sunday evening if it is to ratify any deal before the transition ends but the deadline is expected to be missed.
MEPs have hinted however they could provisionally sign off on an agreement which could lead to ratification in 2021.
UK sources also accused the EU of making “unreasonable” demands on issues such as fisheries and fair competition rules and warned a deal would fail unless there is a “substantial shift” by the EU.
A UK Government source said: “We need to get any deal right and based on terms which respect what the British people voted for.
“Unfortunately, the EU are still struggling to get the flexibility needed from member states and are continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence.
“We cannot accept a deal that doesn’t leave us in control of our own laws or waters.
“We’re continuing to try every possible path to an agreement, but without a substantial shift from the commission we will be leaving on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms on December 31.”
The position was backed by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney who claimed there could be a large stand-off over fishing.
Mr Coveney, said: “I don’t see this being agreed easily in the next 24 hours.
“We may see a standoff over fish.
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“It won’t surprise me if this issue collapses the whole negotiation. It certainly has the capacity to do it.”
But on the Brussels side, EU diplomats dismissed the UK side’s comment as “theatre” or a negotiating tactic.
They stressed there would be a path to a trade deal stressing it could be a “narrow one”.
During the talks, the bloc had offered to hand the UK a five percent maximum share of its fishing quotas from UK waters with cuts phased in over ten years.
Officials then increased this to 23 percent of stocks returned over seven years but the UK are pushing for a deal which would see 60 percent of stocks returned over three years.
If there is no deal by December 31, the UK will leave the single market and customs union and begin trading with the EU on WTO terms.
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