United Kingdom

Downing Street blasts EU's demands for access to UK fishing waters

Britain accused the EU of wishful thinking yesterday for claiming it should compromise on access to fishing waters and follow standards set by Brussels.

As the latest round of trade talks began, Downing Street said Brussels had failed to acknowledge the nation's new-found independence.

UK chief negotiator David Frost and the EU's Michel Barnier are holding meetings online after the last round of talks ended in stalemate.

The two sides must make progress ahead of a summit this month between Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, but the UK has already indicated it will walk away from negotiations if there is no prospect of an agreement by then.

UK chief negotiator David Frost (left) and the EU's Michel Barnier (right) are holding meetings online after the last round of talks ended in stalemate. Pictured together March 2 2020

It was claimed yesterday that the UK would be willing to compromise on access to its fishing waters and 'level playing field' trade rules if the EU agreed to scale back its demands.

'There is only one way to get things moving and that is for the UK side to move and then, as Frost knows full well, the EU will move too,' a senior EU diplomatic source told The Times.

But the Prime Minister's official 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 and fish. We are not compromising on those because our position on these is fundamental to an independent country. Any agreement has to deal with this reality.' The spokesman said there had to be a 'balanced solution' that reflected the 'political reality' on both sides, adding: 'What we cannot do is agree to any EU demands for us to give up our rights as an independent state.'

Meanwhile, industry leaders described any attempt by Brussels to withhold a post-Brexit trade deal over fishing rights as a 'nuclear option'.

As the latest round of trade talks began, Downing Street said Brussels had failed to acknowledge the nation's new-found independence. Pictured: Boris Johnson, May 28 2020

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said he did not believe 'capitulation' by the UK was likely.

He said the EU had taken a 'hard line' and there was not much optimism that a deal on fishing could be reached by the end of June.

But as European trawlers fish six times as much in UK waters as British vessels do in EU waters, London has leverage in the talks, Mr Deas said.

He said: 'Fishing rights are an entirely separate issue. The EU are trying to link them because it's the only card they believe they have. It's a nuclear option and would be extremely damaging to the EU as well as to the UK. That's why I think there will be a compromise because it's in the parties' interests.'

Fishing boats take part in a Brexit flotilla, organised by Fishing For Leave, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Britain March 15, 2019

A compromise could be based on an assurance to EU fleets that they could fish in UK waters – but not with the same quotas as before, Mr Deas said.

It came as MPs on the Commons public accounts committee said they feared firms and the public would struggle to absorb official advice on Covid-19 and Brexit at the same time.

In a report, they claimed it was 'likely the Covid-19 campaign will crowd out the Brexit transition campaign'. 

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