EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier was said to be prepared to water down his demands for access to Britain’s coastal waters. But UK sources close to the talks insisted the plans were “nowhere near where they need to be”. In a private meeting with EU coastal states, Mr Barnier told envoys Brussels would lower its demand for European boats to maintain access to British fishing grounds for at least eight years.
The Frenchman said a seven-year transition period, during which the generous access enjoyed by EU trawlermen to UK waters would be gradually phased down.
He also proposed boosting the bloc’s previous offer to increase fishing quotas for British vessels in our waters.
Mr Barnier said between 22 and 23 percent of the value of fish caught in UK waters should be returned to Britain.
This would hand a £135 million boost to Britain’s fishing industry after the end of the transition.
But British officials said the improved offer was still not enough to end the deadlock in the Brexit trade talks.
One source said: “Their prospers are nowhere near where they need to be.
“They need to drop that phase-in period down seriously.”
Mr Barnier also faced stiff opposition from hardline EU coastal states, led by France and Denmark, after he floated the proposals in order to gauge their mood for compromise.
An EU insider said the Paris’ envoy in the meeting was “very vocal” on the importance of maintaining near-parity access to Britain’s fishing grounds.
Negotiations have continued today in Brussels without a significant breakthrough between EU and UK officials.
UK Brexit envoy Lord Frost held talks today with EU counterpart Mr Barnier at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters.
Sources were downbeat on the prospect of significant progress ahead of Sunday’s deadline for a deal.
Mr Barnier told MEPs the talks had reached a “moment of truth” with both sides unable to end the impasse on the key sticking points – fishing rights and common standards.
The Frenchman said the row over access to Britain’s waters can still collapse the talks and is the “main hurdle” in the “very narrow” path to an agreement after more than nine months of wrangling.
Mr Barnier said: “The path to an agreement is very narrow at a time when decisions need to be taken. That will also be a time for everyone to live up to their responsibilities.”
The EU’s Brexit chief signalled he was refusing to drop a demand that would allow Brussels to slap Britain with punitive tariffs if European trawlermen are largely locked out of our fishing grounds in the future.
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He insisted that any trade agreement must include a distinct link between Britain’s access to the single market and fishing opportunities in UK waters for EU vessels.
“If following a critical period of adjustment that is deemed unnecessary, if the UK wants to cut access to these waters for European fishermen, at any given time, then the EU also has to maintain its sovereign right react or to compensate by adjusting the conditions for products, and especially fisheries products, to the single market,” Mr Barnier said.
He added: “That’s where we come up against one of the main hurdles of the negotiations – fisheries being part and parcel of the economic partnership.
“It would not be fair, not acceptable, if European fishermen were not allowed, following transitional rights, to have access to those waters when the rest of the agreement, especially applying to companies from the UK, would remain stable in their rights.”
With just hours left to clinch an agreement, the Frenchman blamed Britain for the increasing time press by trying to run down the clock to secure concessions from the EU.
He said: “In June, they refused any form of extension to the transition, which was possible.
“If they should leave with an agreement or without, it is nevertheless the British who decided on that deadline.”