EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gestures during a news conference after Brexit negotiations – REUTERS
Brexit trade negotiations face collapse unless the EU abandons its demands for continued access to UK fishing waters, sources close to the talks have said.
Brussels has called for EU boats to keep access under “existing conditions” as a price for the free trade agreement being negotiated by the two sides. The UK insists any fishing agreement must be separate from the trade deal with access negotiated annually in a similar fashion to Norway’s agreement with the bloc.
A UK source close to the negotiations said that the EU’s red line would need to change, otherwise the talks could be terminated in June.
“There are some fundamentals that we’re not going to change, nor going to move on. Because they are not so much negotiating positions as they’re sort of what an independent state does” the source said.
“An independent state has independent control over coastal waters,” the source added, “what we are wanting now is an EU understanding that we are not going to subordinate our laws to them in any areas”.
Michel Barnier accused Britain of wasting time in the trade negotiations, which have a deadline of the end of the year, after a round of talks last week. He criticised British negotiators for failing to present a text on fisheries for negotiations. UK sources said there was no point presenting a text when the two sides were “talking across each other”.
Downing Street has called on EU national leaders to intervene to break the deadlock in the talks but that is not expected to happen before June, when a joint conference will be held to evaluate progress towards the agreement.
The source said that the UK would consider walking away in June and begin preparing for a no trade deal exit at the end of the transition period.
“We do need to prepare for the end of the transition period, focus on that as well. If we don’t look like we are going to get a deal that will become the primary focus of effort,” the source said.
The deadline to finalise the trade deal, which has come under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, is the end of the year, when the Brexit transition period finished. The transition period deep-freezes UK membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.
Boris Johnson has vowed to not extend the transition period, despite the EU being ready to negotiate a delay and despite the risk of the UK failing to agree a deal in time, which would mean trading on less advantageous WTO terms.