British negotiators will demand a separate fisheries agreement today as talk resume with Brussels over a trade deal.
It will set up a fresh clash with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, who wants fishing to be included in a single, overarching future relationship pact. David Frost, Boris Johnson’s lead negotiator, revealed his plans for Britain’s waters to the Frenchman yesterday as they opened the third round of official trade talks. A new draft fisheries text tabled by Britain is expected to be discussed as part of this week’s negotiations.
The two sides have dedicated three days of talks in an attempt to break the deadlock over continued access to Britain’s waters for European trawlermen.
A UK official said: “Our position on fish is reasonable and straightforward.
“We want a 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, with sustainability at its core.”
The Government has argued Brussels’ demand to include fisheries, trade, aviation and energy in a single post-Brexit agreement is “unreasonable”.
Mr Barnier has been ordered by European capitals to secure reciprocal access to British waters under “existing conditions”.
UK sources close to the negotiations have said the bloc’s stance is a bid to continue the Common Fisheries Policy.
Downing Street believes this places Brussels in breach of the Political Declaration, the document which sets out the goals of the trade negotiations.
A UK spokesman said: “The Political Declaration clearly sets out that an agreement on fish should be in force by July – just over two months away.
“Yet the EU continues to push for one single overarching agreement, despite that clearly being at odds with the Political Declaration, which envisages a separate agreement on fisheries.”
British negotiators hope that EU leaders will eventually intervene to change Mr Barnier’s negotiating mandate in order to break the impasse.
A high-level meeting between Mr Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in June is expected to play a crucial role in moving on the stalled talks.
Meanwhile, Germany’s most powerful industry lobby as warned of an economic “catastrophe” as chances of Britain leaving the transition period without an agreement continue to increase.
BDI chief Joachim Lang said: “It’s a realistic prospect that the lead negotiators will again be left empty handed at the end of this week.
“The coronavirus crisis has already cost vey many jobs across Europe.
“If the Brexit transition phase expires without an agreement at the end of the year, it would turn an already difficult situation into a catastrophe.”
Downing Street has continuously insisted it will not delay the trade talks, despite the significant disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Talks are now held via internet video conferencing, with officials on both sides refusing to speculate when they may return to normal.
Mr Lang angrily hit out at the Government’s tactics, insisting they will damage businesses on both sides of the Channel.
He said: “The tactics of the British Government are not appropriate considering the seriousness of the situation.
“Our companies need a clear willingness from London to solve existing problems together.
“The British Government must take into account the legitimate concerns of industry on both sides of the Channel.”