The EU has said that reaching an agreement over fishing is a pre-requisite for any future free trade deal and ideally want the issue resolved by the beginning of July. Boris Johnson’s Government is only willing to grant a year’s access, as Britain and Brussels look set for their first major post-Brexit clash. The French demands were made in closed-door meetings between European Commission officials and the diplomats from the other 27 member states, according to the Daily Telegraph.
A diplomatic source familiar with the discussions said: “We need certainty and we can’t have this row on fish come round every year, or every five years, and we need a deal.”
Most European countries see the French demands as unrealistic and are trying to secure an agreement for a ten year period.
The Commission has warned its members that securing a deal by July will be difficult, but officials expect to be able to ring big concessions from the British Government.
This is because almost three-quarters of the catch from British fleets is sold in Europe.
Mr Johnson is also coming under considerable domestic political pressure to deliver on Government promises made to UK fishermen in the run-up to the general election in December last year.
Government ministers made repeated assurances to the UK’s fishermen that Brexit would deliver a golden bonanza, providing them with “hundreds of thousands of tonnes” of extra fish.
So far the Prime Minister has only gone as far as saying that the UK will “take back control” of its waters after Brexit.
The issue of access to British waters is a major concern for the French governments as a total shut out would see a fall in revenue of up to 50 percent, according to the French fishermen’s group CNPMEM.
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It was then whisked by Eurostar to London, where Mr Johnson added his signature at 10 Downing Street.
The Prime Minister declared: “The signing of the Withdrawal Agreement is a fantastic moment, which finally delivers the result of the 2016 referendum and brings to an end far too many years of argument and division.
“We can now move forward as one country – with a Government focused upon delivering better public services, greater opportunity and unleashing the potential of every corner of our brilliant United Kingdom – while building a strong new relationship with the EU as friends and sovereign equals.”
Earlier in the week, Brussels warned the UK that it was ready to slap sanctions on Britain if the British Government failed to carry out custom checks on goods travelling between the UK and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU rules on food and manufactured goods, while the rest of the UK will not.
Northern Ireland will also continue to follow EU customs rules and will remain part of the UK’s customs territory.