The EU’s chief negotiator was said to be ready to water down the bloc’s demands for unchanged access to the fishing grounds around the UK’s coast for European fleets after the post-Brexit transition ends in December. He is understood to be poised to make the concession next week in an attempt to stop talks about a future EU-UK trade deal collapsing next month.
Last night, a string of European ministers pleaded with the diplomat not to give in too early in a video conference call to discuss future fishing quotas.
Ahead of the discussion, sources in the EU negotiating team said the diplomat was preparing to drop his “maximalist” position of insisting that the status quo on fishing rights in UK territorial waters remains in force after the end of the country’s transition out of EU rules on December 31.
One EU diplomat said: “Our opening line of keeping the current terms is impossible to uphold.
“That is clearly unattainable so we’d be looking to some narrowing of the positions.”
“There have been hints of a possible reconciliation of approaches,” the official said ahead of another round of EU-UK talks next week.
“We would be looking to shift on demands to keep everything as is now, a somewhat maximalist opening position, if the UK also moved from its position of coastal attachment.
“That’s where the room for compromise lies.”
Boris Johnson has been adamant that the UK will become an independent coastal state with full sovereignty over its territorial waters once the Brexit transition ends.
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Fishing ministers from the so-called “group of eight” leading fishing nations in the EU, which included Ireland, urged the diplomat to still try to press for significant access to UK waters in the conference call last night.
After the call, Mr Barnier said: “We confirmed that there will be no free-trade agreement without a level-playing field and a balanced, sustainable, long-term solution on fisheries.”
Irish agriculture minister Michael Creed last night claimed Mr Barnier had agreed to stick “rigidly” to his current position.
He said: “I reiterated Ireland’s full commitment to the EU negotiating mandate and delivering an outcome that upholds our existing access and quota shares.
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“That position was also supported by other ministers.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Our position on fish is simple, reasonable and straightforward.
“We want a simple, separate fisheries framework agreement which reflects our rights under international law and which provides for annual negotiations over access and sharing opportunities based on the scientific principle of zonal attachment which better reflects where the fish live.
“This is squarely in line with the existing precedent of the EU’s current fisheries agreement with Norway.
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“We remain committed to reaching agreement and look forward to the next negotiating round which begins next week.”
Speaking earlier this week at an event in Brussels, Paulina Dejmek-Hack, one of Mr Barnier’s senior aides, suggested a compromise on fishing was possible.
She said: “Our mandate is very clear. It is starting from today’s situation – the current state of affairs – we’d like to keep that but, of course, it is very positive that we’re in a constructive exchange with the UK.”