Boris Johnson’s official spokesman stepped in amid reports of a potential compromise agreement over future access to the UK’s territorial waters. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has signalled he is ready to give ground on his “maximalist” position that calls for the same level of access to UK waters as in the Common Fisheries Policy. The Frenchman could agree to a Norway-style fisheries treaty, with annual negotiations on quota shares and access, if Britain moves away from its demand to divide fishing rights using “zonal attachment”, based on where fish are found, rather than “historic patterns” favoured by the bloc.
Responding to claims that the UK could be ready to compromise on its position, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “This is wishful thinking by the EU. We have always been clear there is no question of splitting the difference on level-playing field or fish.
“We aren’t compromising on this because our position on this is fundamental to our status as an independent, sovereign country. Any agreement has to deal with this reality.
“We have set out what we are looking for.
“What we can’t do is agree to any EU demands to give away on our rights as an independent state.”
Boris Johnson’s spokesman has lashed out at ‘wishful thinking’ in Brussels
The official insisted David Frost, the Prime Minister’s lead negotiator, would continue to demand an agreement based on the EU’s fisheries deals with other third countries, such as Norway or Iceland.
But in an attempt to break the deadlock, Mr Frost today resumed negotiations over the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Mr Barnier’s refusal to abandoned his demands on fisheries and the so-called regulatory “level-playing field” have left the process deadlocked.
The Frenchman was warned that he must compromise in order to achieve a deal before the post-Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
If no progress is made, Britain will walk away from the talks in the autumn to focus on preparations for a minimalist relationship with the bloc based on world trade terms.
Mr Johnson is expected to hold talks with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen later this month to decide whether sufficient progress has been made to continue trade negotiations.
Meanwhile, The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has claimed this could spark a backlash from French trawlers who profit from easy access to the UK’s fishing grounds.
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The EU and UK are holding talks over access to Britain’s fishing waters
It said France benefits from 84 percent of the cod in the English Channel and the UK just nine percent.
In the Celtic Sea, France has a 66 percent quota compared to the UK’s 10 percent, the organisation’s chief executive added.
NFFO chief Barrie Deas said a furious response from French boats was just “nature of the beast” they are dealing with, but insisted it was no reason for Mr Frost to concede in the battle over access to the UK’s territorial waters.
Mr Deas added: “Given there is a line down the middle of the Channel, you could expect zonal attachment to be something a little bit more equal.
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“If there is any change to those quota shares or any other aspect that affects French fishermen, as day follows night there will be blockades – they’ve done it for much less in the past.”
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said refusing the EU’s demands to uphold the same level of access for European boats to British waters would hand “significantly higher” returns to UK trawlers.
Elspeth MacDonald, its chief executive, said: “We’ve been clear from the outset that what we want is a new system of quota sharing based on zonal attachment, based on where fish are actually found and not on the historical practices of many years ago.
“If you look at the 12 or 13 key commercial species for the Scottish fishing industry and all of these, a quota sharing arrangement based on zonal attachment would bring a significantly higher quota share for the UK.”