Prime Minister Boris Johnson has secured a huge trade victory after Brussels moved to row back on its controversial demands to secure access to Britain’s fishing waters, leaked documents have revealed.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier will now only demand European fishermen’s existing rights are “respected” as part of a toned down approach to trade talks with Britain.
European capitals had previously insisted on the bloc’s vessels should have their existing rights enjoyed as part of the hated Common Fisheries Policy “upheld” as part of any future relationship between the EU and UK.
But an explosive new trade plan devised by Mr Barnier’s UK task force, has revealed the first concessions by the bloc to secure a new pact with Britain.
The document, entitled “The Agreement on the New Partnership between the European Union and United Kingdom”, will be discussed as part of next week’s negotiating round.
Any future fisheries arrangement must “respect the existing fishing activities” by UK and EU trawler men.
In Mr Barnier’s bombshell mandate published at the beginning of the month, EU member states demanded “the provisions on fisheries should be to uphold Union fishing activities”.
It added: “In particular, it should aim to avoid economic dislocation for Union fishermen that have been engaged in fishing activities in the United Kingdom waters.”
The significant concession will be seen as an early victory for Mr Johnson who has vowed to reclaim control of Britain’s waters after the end of the Brexit transition period after December 31.
As part of his negotiating guidelines, the Prime Minister said he would consider EU access to British waters based on annual negotiations.
David Frost, his lead negotiator and top Europe adviser, also made clear that quotas would be finalised based on a brand new scientific approach rather than the EU’s preference to work out shares based on historic patterns.
Brussels has now said the agenda for any consolations should be agreed by January 31 each year and a final deal struck around 11 months later on December 10.
And the bloc and London will now use the “best available scientific advice” to establish its shared fishing stocks.
The move comes after a top European Union official warned capitals they would have to back down on fisheries in order to secure a deal.
The source said: “The mandate is given at the beginning of these negotiations.
“At a certain point in time, member states will have to decide whether they can move or not in order for us to strike an agreement.”
Announcing the publication of his new draft plan, Mr Barnier wrote on Twitter: “We’ve sent a draft agreement on new partnership to the European parliament and EU council for discussion.
“It shows ambitious and comprehensive future relationship is possible. We must give ourselves every chance of success. We will publish the text after our exchanges & look forward to working with the UK.”
Despite the major concession, there are still a number of stumbling blocks that could scupper any chance of a trade deal between Brussels and London.
As part of his plan, Britain will have to guarantee “uniform implementation” of the EU’s state aid rules while the European Court of Justice will have the ability to impose rulings to British courts.
The 441-page draft treaty calls for the UK to apply the bloc’s rule book and “harmonise” with future EU policy developments.
In his own social media intervention, Mr Frost hit back at his EU counterpart.
The top UK official said: “We announced on March 9 we should share a draft FTA and other texts shortly.
“Thank you Michel Barnier for making clear the EU will too. Look forward to discussing our draft mandate soon, as we take forward new negotiating arrangements agreed yesterday.”
The UK and EU jointly agreed to shelve trade talks in London amid the growing coronavirus crisis.
With some 200 officials scheduled to meet in the capital, their bosses saw fit to cancel face-to-face negotiations and opt for discussions via video link instead.
A joint UK-EU statement said: “Given the latest Covid-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled.
“Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences.”