Fisheries dispute threatens to sink post-Brexit trade deal

Remigio Civitarese
Dicembre 21, 2020

The UK has kept following EU regulations since it left the bloc on 31 January, but it will exit its internal market and customs union when this "transition" period finishes at the end of the year.

Negotiations were still deadlocked on Sunday, with both London and Brussels digging in their heels over access to the UK's fishing waters.

On Friday, Michel Barnier said the possibility of a final Brexit accord "is here", acknowledging that the talks remain stalled on the crucial issue of fisheries - one of the stumbling blocks in the nearly year-long course of negotiations on post-withdrawal economic arrangements. "And we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake".

The fighting words took away all hope that a deal could be found before midnight, which the European Parliament had set as a deadline if it was to have enough time to vet and approve the deal before New Year's.

The European fishing industry has accused the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier of selling them "down the river".

"Because of the importance of the Dover straits in handling critical goods such as food and other things like that I think it could become quite dramatic", he warned.

Top health officials have said there is no evidence the new variant is more deadly nor that it would react differently to vaccines.

While the European Parliament has set Sunday as a deadline, EU member states have not acknowledged the date, and officials say they could provisionally sign off on the agreement to avoid the impact of a no-deal. Deadlines have been set and missed nearly throughout the four-year acrimonious divorce proceedings. "We have just learned that there will be no agreement today", German MEP David McAllister said in a statement late Sunday. "There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow", Barnier told the European Parliament.

The nearly mythical sense of Britain's rights to rule its waves was an essential part of what drove Brexiteers to victory in the 2016 referendum.

The impasse in trade talks, and the disruption at United Kingdom borders due to the Covid crisis, has led to renewed calls for the United Kingdom to reconsider extending the transition period to allow more time for a deal to be done.

However, a United Kingdom government source said London "cannot accept a deal that doesn't leave us in control of our own laws or waters". Johnson, though, could not be budged. One official from an European Union coastal nation said the European Union was refusing to yield more than a quarter of the fishing quotas the bloc stands to lose now that Britain is regaining full control of its waters due to Brexit. Both sides need to get any deal approved by their parliaments, and with the talks in their final stages, it is expected that any conclusion will most likely come before Christmas.

The EU also offered to reduce the phase-in period of the new arrangements to six years, after originally wanting 10.

With less than two weeks before Britain leaves the EU's orbit, both sides are calling on the other to move to secure a deal and safeguard nearly a trillion euros worth of annual trade from tariffs and quotas.

Talks to reach a trade deal have been largely hamstrung over two issues - the bloc's fishing rights in British waters and creating a so-called level playing field providing fair competition rules for both sides.

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