EU and UK Remain Apart on Key Issue
The UK and the EU continue to argue about future fishing quotas in UK waters. Brussels has made an offer – but the talks have stalled.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday that an agreement on a free trade agreement between Brussels and London would have to be reached “this week if possible.” His British colleague Dominic Raab had already spoken on Sunday that the “last really important week” was about to begin.
Nevertheless, the negotiations remain stalled, particularly in discussions on future quotas for EU fishermen in UK waters. The Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier repeated the proposal on Friday that the EU was ready to return 15 to 18 percent of its previous quotas to Great Britain. However, British chief negotiator David Frost rejected this as unacceptable; London is reported to claim 80 percent of EU quotas for fishermen in the UK. From the perspective of British Foreign Minister Raab, this is about nothing less than regaining sovereignty. “As an independent coastal state, we want to be in control of our own waters,” he said. He does not think that this is an unreasonable demand.
While fisheries only contribute 0.1 percent of the UK’s economic output, it is a hugely symbolic issue for the Brexiteers. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, therefore, has little scope for concessions.
Fishing is also a highly emotional issue on the EU side, especially in France. President Emmanuel Macron fears an uprising by fishermen if he fails in keeping the catch quotas in British waters reasonably stable.
Apparently, there are considerations in Brussels and Paris to leave the EU quotas unchanged in the waters of the English Channel; instead, those in the Irish Sea could be reduced. In this way, Macron could ensure that at least the French fishermen would not be worse off. However, it is questionable whether Johnson would respond.
In contrast, there should be movement on another critical topic. At least, that is what the British government claims. Foreign Minister Raab spoke of a “landing zone” that was in sight at the so-called level playing field, with specifications for fair competition between companies in Great Britain and the EU.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Coveney did not want to confirm this on Monday, but he underlined the need for an instrument to resolve disputes. The time for an agreement is becoming increasingly scarce.
At the turn of the year, the Brexit transition phase ends, during which Great Britain is still part of the EU internal market and the customs union.
If it is impossible to conclude a trade agreement by December 31st, duties and customs controls will be introduced from January onwards. Both sides seek to prevent such a no-deal scenario, but not at any price.
(Image: Path for Europe)