French MEP Nathalie Loiseau said there was no question the UK should be able to take back control of its fishing grounds after Brexit but queried whether that also includes fish. Speaking at an online event, France’s former Europe minister insisted Boris Johnson’s refusal to cave in to the bloc’s demands would end up “hurting the interests of European fishermen”. Ms Loiseau said: “The British proposals are hurting the interests of European fishermen to an extent that is really not acceptable.”
She added: “Nobody is denying the return to sovereignty of the UK on its waters. The question being, does it include the fish in the water?
“Brexit was supposed to bring a better future for the UK, you may agree with this or not, it was not supposed to hurt the European Union.”
The French government is fearful that its fishermen could be largely locked out of British waters next year as part of a compromise Brexit deal being cooked up by Michel Barnier.
French President Macron has even floated the possibility of the EU pursuing a no-deal Brexit instead of an agreement that harms the bloc’s interests.
On a visit to Boulogne, French prime minister Jean Castex said: “We obviously hope to obtain an agreement under the best possible conditions, but not under any conditions. And certainly not under the conditions where fishing would be sacrificed as an adjustment variable.
“If we fall back on French waters, there is a risk of overexploitation, in a few months we will destroy the resource.”
Paris’ uncompromising attitude has spooked softer states hoping to back a compromise in order to end the transition period on December 31 with an agreement.
Ireland wants Mr Barnier to explore the limits of his negotiating guidelines to broker the deal.
In a sign of tensions between states, Irish premier Micheal Martin said: “We can’t all be negotiators at the table, we’ve got to have faith and trust in the negotiating team to get a balanced deal over the line.”
His foreign minister Simon Coveney added: “There’s a good chance we can get a deal across the line in the next few days.
“Closing out a negotiation as complex as this one is never going to be easy.”
A member of Mr Barnier’s task force claimed there are still “significant” gaps between the two sides.
Stefaan De Rynck said: “We are at the end of a marathon run. I cannot guarantee that we’ll reach the finishing line with an agreement.
“It’s certainly my feeling both sides are committed to finding a deal. Significant divergences remain. As of today the outcome of the process is uncertain.”