The prime minister and the French president have held talks to try and break an impasse over fishing that is threatening a UK-EU trade deal with time rapidly running out for agreement.
Boris Johnson warned Emmanuel Macron that negotiators need to bridge “significant gaps” within days given the need to reach a deal this month to allow time for it to be ratified before the end of the UK’s transition period from the EU.
Johnson “confirmed the UK’s commitment to exploring every avenue to reach an agreement” in the call with Macron, according to a Downing Street spokesman.
“He underlined that a deal was better for both sides, but also that the UK was prepared to end the transition period on Australia-style [WTO] terms if an agreement could not be found,” the spokesman said.
‘A totemic issue for British and French coastal towns and villages’
Fishing has proved a major sticking point throughout the lengthy negotiations, as too the issue of a ‘level playing field’ and government aid for industry.
Macron’s stance on fishing rights and quotas is seen as crucial to achieving a deal. Tory sources are quoted in today’s Telegraph saying the chances of reaching an agreement hinge on the preparedness of the French president to make a “political decision” and “compromise on fish – a totemic issue for British and French coastal towns and villages.”
UK offers EU fishing ‘transition period’
The EU has so far maintained its position of insisting the Common Fisheries Policy is replicated, thereby preserving the pre-Brexit quotas for EU fishermen.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, the UK has offered the EU a three-year transition period on fishing which would gradually scale down the EU fishermen’s quota of fish in British waters.
The UK’s chief negotiator Lord [David] Frost repeated the PM’s publicly declared deadline for an agreement – this Thursday’s (October 15) EU summit of leaders in Brussels – during a parliamentary hearing this week.
However, a senior EU diplomat told the Guardian yesterday (Friday): “I don’t detect any readiness on the British side to suspend the negotiations. This is going to continue. It is not a deadline.”
In September the UK signed an historic fisheries treaty with Norway which Lord Frost hailed as “a crucial step forward for when we leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy in three months time.”
Britain’s fishing industry accounts for “less than half a per cent” of annual GDP according to the Financial Times which adds “the English fleet traditionally catches its fish in Irish, French and Norwegian, as well as UK, waters” and exports a huge percentage of its catch to the EU.
Tory MP facing investigating for using PMQs to publicize his Brexit book
Meanwhile, Tory MP Sir David Amess is facing the possibility of a Commons standards investigation after using PMQs to advertise his forthcoming book on Brexit.
Amess – 68 years old and an MP since 1983 – had the opening question during Wednesday’s PMQs and said: “Next month, a book that I have written called ‘Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster’, will be published. Part of it covers Brexit – and yes, by inference, everyone will be in the book.
“Does my right honourable friend agree that the last general election was not fought on how political parties might handle the coronavirus pandemic, but was categorically about ensuring that the result of the 2016 referendum is implemented in full? Will he confirm that he intends to see that happen?”
The Conservative backbencher has been reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by the Labour party for breaching Commons rules forbidding members from using debates to pursue their own financial interests.