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EU rejects British fisheries offer of 35% fish-stock reduction over 3 years

A Number 10 insider has described the reported compromise on fishing quotas as “b*llocks”.

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated Dec 22nd 2020, 9:40 PM

THE EU HAS rejected the latest UK offer on fishing but is ready to pursue a post-Brexit trade deal even beyond the end of the year, diplomats have said.

The EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier gave an update of the trade negotiations to ambassadors from the 27 European Union nations. He told reporters today that “we are really in the crucial moment”. 

According to sources at the meeting of ambassadors, Barnier said he could not guarantee there would be a deal, but that the EU’s “door will remain open”.

“EU negotiators are in a last push now to make progress and to clinch a deal acceptable for both sides,” Barnier said, according to several European diplomats.

The EU will not close its door to the UK and remains ready to negotiate even beyond January 1.

According to the diplomats, Britain had suggested EU access to UK fish stocks be reduced by 35%, phased in over three years.

The EU had suggested a level of 25%, and over six years.

But crucially the British offer did not include ‘pelagic fish’ – those that swim freely away from coasts or the seabed – and had not addressed inshore fishing at all.

If the loss of access to pelagic species is included, the EU would lose 60% of its current catch, they said.

“In other words quite far outside the mandate of the EU negotiator,” one EU source said, adding: “Barnier has not asked for his mandate to change.”

Member states with northern fishing fleets like France, Denmark and the Netherlands are holding strongest on fish, but the EU remains broadly united, sources said.

EU and UK leaders ‘in close contact’

Earlier today, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in “close contact” with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as the time to strike a post-Brexit trade deal.

Sources said the pair were speaking “from time to time given there isn’t long left” until the end of the Brexit transition period next week.

Barnier also briefed MEPs today as efforts continue to reach an agreement with the UK before the current trading arrangements expire on 31 December.

The deal needs to be ratified by the European Parliament and the House of Commons before it can be implemented from 11pm on 31 December. The deal also needs to be translated for MEPs before they cast their vote on it.

Around 97% of the trade deal has been agreed and drafted into a legal text; the outstanding issues are under the headings of governance (a way of resolving trade and standards disputes), fish (quotas and trade into the Single Market) and the level-playing field (fair trade rules and standards). 

Reports have indicated that progress has been made on the level-playing field, and that attention has turned to overcoming differences on the number of fish EU boats will be allowed to capture in UK waters. Fisheries makes up less than 2% of the UK economy, but fishing villages around the UK represent Brexit strongholds. 

Negotiations

Johnson has continued to insist the UK will “prosper mightily” without a deal, despite warning that it could add further damage to an economy already ravaged by coronavirus.

The UK leaves the single market and customs union on 31 December and will face tariffs and quotas on trade with the EU unless a deal is reached.

But talks in Brussels remain difficult, with “significant differences in key areas”, including fishing rights and rules on maintaining fair competition (known as the ‘level playing field’).

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was asked on RTÉ’s Prime Time last Thursday whether there was ‘grandstanding’ by the British side over the state of negotiations.

He said that “there’s always a little bit of brinkmanship, there’s always a certain degree of political theatre” in trade talks.

That doesn’t mean this deal is guaranteed, but I do think both sides are edging towards a deal, and I think that both sides are going to want to have that done before Christmas.

Fisheries deal

Johnson spoke to European Commission chief von der Leyen yesterday, according to Politico, although No 10 would not publicly confirm the call or what they discussed.

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The two leaders reportedly spoke about fresh proposals on fishing rights.

Downing Street insiders flatly rejected reports that there has been a breakthrough in the row over quotas.

Reports suggested the UK had offered a cut of around a third in the amount of fish EU vessels catch in British waters over a five-year period.

That is down from an initial demand to cut it by 60% over three years but the compromise was reportedly rejected by Brussels.

brexit The fishing port at Bridlington Harbour in Yorkshire. Source: PA

A Number 10 insider described the reported compromise as “bollocks” and officials have warned that significant differences remain between the two sides.

Barnier will update EU ambassadors at 3pm before addressing MEPs at 5pm.

At a press conference yesterday, Johnson said the position is “unchanged” and insisted the UK will thrive without a deal, relying on World Trade Organisation terms.

“There are problems. It’s vital that everyone understands that the UK has got to be able to control its own laws completely,” he said.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that a no-deal outcome could result in a 2% hit to gross domestic product – a measure of the size of the economy – in 2021.

That would equate to around £45 billion being wiped off the value of the UK economy.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha and AFP

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