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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday that fishing rights is the last obstacle for a Brexit trade deal after months of deadlock. With negotiations still ongoing in Brussels, Ms von der Leyen told the European Parliament that a deal is possible, but difficult. She said: “As things stand, I can’t tell you if there will be a deal or not.” Despite fisheries being worth just 0.1 percent of the UK economy, it has been an important issue as the UK wants more control over its waters.
However, EU negotiator Michel Barnier has warned throughout talks that if European vessels are not allowed in British fishing grounds, the UK could be cut off from European markets.
In September, the Telegraph reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was planning a surprising concession in order to get a deal over the line.
It was claimed that he was willing to “surrender” UK control over waters surrounding the Channel Islands.
The EU reportedly floated the possibility of instating different fishing rights around the Channel Islands to those around the UK, allowing more access for French and Dutch vessels.
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This would have seen reduced EU access to the Channel Islands’ waters than it currently has, but more than if Britain had sole control.
This sparked outrage from Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, with many warning the Prime Minister against the move.
David Jones, Deputy Chairman of the European Research Group, said: “It would be unfair on British and Channel Islands fishermen if any such suggestion was to be accepted.
“These are British waters and our position has been consistent, that when we leave the transition period these will become our own waters as an independent coastal state and we will negotiate with the EU as to access to them.
“But certainly to surrender British waters would be quite unacceptable.
“If they want access to them, they should negotiate access to them on an annual basis.”
Iain Duncan Smith added that the proposal would undermine “the principle of ‘take back control’”.
While Jersey and Guernsey are not part of the UK, the UK Government is responsible for defence and foreign affairs issues relating to the islands.
Guernsey and Jersey export most of their fisheries to France, meaning Brexit could have a big impact if they are cut off from European markets.
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However, the governments of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man have indicated that they will attempt to negotiate a similar arrangement with the EU to ensure a smooth future trading relationship.
EU sources have said this week that the UK has also backed down on demands for fishing vessels operating under the UK flag to be majority British-owned in the future.
Mr Barnier told MEPs that he has also compromised on the “architecture” of the agreement on fisheries and that he had accepted there would be a transition period to phase in changes.
Brexiteer Tory MP, Andrew Bridgen, told Express.co.uk in November that the EU’s demands are “absurd”, and also said the risk of a no deal would force the bloc to compromise.
He said: “It’s like someone renting a property off you, terminating the agreement, and then demanding they keep 80 percent of the back garden.
“Who is going to agree to that? That’s not how it works. It’s absurd.
“There is no court in the world the EU could go to that would uphold their right to keep our sovereign fishing grounds.”
He added: “There is still a risk of a no deal, but there has to be a risk of a no deal because that is what will force the EU to compromise.”
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