The Frenchman was warned by the bloc’s most influential fisheries capitals that he must continue to demand status access to Britain’s waters as part of any post-Brexit free-trade agreement. They said he must “uphold existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shared and traditional activity” for European trawler men. Prior to the video meeting with eleven ministers, Brussels sources said Mr Barnier was preparing to drop his “maximalist” position next week when trade talks with Britain resume.
He is said to have identified a potential compromise offer that would enable him to move closer to Boris Johnson’s demand to become an independent coastal nation and unlock the deadlocked negotiations.
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.”
But chances of a trade-off were left in doubt after Irish agriculture minister Michael Creed said Mr Barnier had agreed to stick “rigidly” to his current position.
Michel Barnier is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator
The Irishman added: “I reiterated Ireland’s full commitment to the EU negotiating mandate and delivering an outcome that upholds our existing access and quota shares.
“That position was also supported by other ministers.”
After the meeting, 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.”
An EU diplomat told Express.co.uk: “We reaffirmed our full support for the existing mandate, with no changes, and have confidence in Michel Barnier to deliver it.”
Michel Barnier after the last round of negotiations
EU negotiators were said to be preparing a half-way house offer that would have allowed the Prime Minister to claim a significant victory on fisheries.
When talks resume on June 1, fisheries officials were due to discuss how to divide up quota for each shared species based on a scientific approach, as proposed by Downing Street.
No10 is concerned that the EU’s fisheries blueprint would simply be a continuation of the Common Fisheries Policy, that divides up stocks based on historical data.
A UK spokesman said: “Our position on fish is simple, reasonable and straightforward.
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David Frost and Michel Barnier in Brussels last March
“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.
“We remain committed to reaching agreement and look forward to the next negotiating Round which begins next week.”
Speaking this week at an event in Brussels, Paulina Dejmek-Hack, one of Mr Barnier’s senior aides, suggested a compromise is possible between the UK and EU’s positions.
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.”
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The director of the EU Commission’s UK task force added: “They are no longer part of the CFP, which means they are an independent state that can decide for themselves what to have in their borders.
“On the other hand, there is a mutual interest to establish clarity because people working in fishing need to know what they can fish and where.
“There are also people who fish in our waters… There are markets for fish products frequently landed in the UK and exported to Europe.
“I don’t think it should surprise anyone that we start from different positions in this negotiation.”