Europe

EU fisheries divide: Seven countries’ anger at Michel Barnier over Brexit talks revealed

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As Brexit trade talks continue, the EU is demanding the UK to keep its waters open to foreign vessels if it wants access to European markets. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushes to take independent control of UK fishing grounds, this conundrum has created a deadlock between negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier. The dispute around fisheries also caused Mr Barnier to come under pressure during negotiations with former Prime Minister Theresa May as she looked for a favourable withdrawal agreement.

However, Brussels came under pressure from seven countries who were furious with a proposed arrangement.

France led calls among European Union states for changes to the draft agreement on Britain’s exit from the bloc.

The row erupted in November 2018 as France spearheaded a group of states in raising objections to what had so far been agreed on fishing between the EU and UK.

Listing concern about the issue in France, Denmark, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, a diplomatic source close to the negotiations told Reuters: “On the draft agreement, several member states will ask for improvements on fishing.”

Finland and Ireland were also worried about future fishing arrangements, other diplomatic sources said.

In the end, the draft Brexit deal left the case without a firm resolution.

It said the two sides would try to agree on the future of fisheries by July 2020, during the transition period after Brexit, to form part of an eventual new EU-UK trade deal.

An EU official added at the time: “Not all member states were very happy with that.”

Some other EU diplomats, however, expressed doubt that the bloc would bring down the whole deal over fisheries.

They said France’s opposition was tactical and that member states concerned with fisheries could still seek more reassurances in the declaration on future ties rather than demand changes to Britain’s formal withdrawal deal.

France is one of many nations dependent on British fishing grounds.

Between 2012-2016 for example, France caught 120,000 tonnes of fish worth £171million, according to Marine Management Organisation figures.

In February, France President Emmanuel Macron promised he would “fight” for his country’s fishermen during Brexit trade talks.

He said: “I want to tell our fishermen that I will fight for them. If we do not get the same access as today, we will seek compensation.

“I will not let our fishermen pay for a British vote they could do nothing about.”

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Some fishermen in France expressed dread at the prospect of losing access to UK fishing grounds, fearing that it could end their businesses.

Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city where a key French fishing port is located, is home to many of these fishermen, with one claiming they will have “no Plan-B” should Mr Johnson and Brussels fail to reach a deal.

One told the Financial Times in January: “[Brexit] is death. I have no Plan B. I have €1m of debt. What am I supposed to do? Put a bullet in my head?”

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