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David McAllister, chairman of the UK Co-ordination group in the European Parliament, said it was the UK – not the EU – who would need to show more leniency in talks between David Frost and Michel Barnier. In an interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk Mr McAllister said the British Government had placed the bloc under “enormous pressure” by refusing to extend the Brexit transition period beyond the December 31 deadline.
He ruled out an arrangement between the two sides which would see a fishing agreement negotiated separately to a wider post-Brexit trade deal.
Mr McAllister said while he respects Britons’ desire to take back control of their waters, he wants them to bear in mind the vast amount of British fish exported to the continent.
He said: “We respect that the UK has sovereignty to decide about fishing rights in its territorial waters from January 1 onwards. But there are also tangible British interests that there will be an agreement.
“On one hand, parts of the British finishing economy are also using the infrastructure of the fish processing industry in France, and on the other hand, and this is the most important aspect, British fish should also be sold on the single market.
“And we are offering access for British fish produce to the worldwide biggest single market, but on the other hand, in return, we want sensible regulations that there will continue to be mutual access to waters and fish resources in future.”
He added: “Currently, the result of the negotiations is uncertain. The EU is willing to continue the negotiations until the end.
“Despite the still significant differences, we want to push the negotiations in the right direction. But in the end, the British side needs to budge.”
Mr McAllister’s comments came ahead of the European Council summit which kicked off on Wednesday.
Mr McAllister said trade talks would not enter “a decisive phase” as he sought to dress-up the EU’s offer to the UK, claiming it was “something we have never offered another third state”.
He said the ball would be in the UK’s court as to whether or not they choose to accept the offer.
He said: “The UK are leaving the single market and the customs union voluntarily and we are still offering customs-free access for British goods to the biggest single market worldwide.
“But this comes at a cost, and this cost is the fair competition requirements, these are binding for both sides of the channel.
“In the end, it is a political decision of the British Government whether or not they want to accept this offer.”
Mr McAllister said the EU would not waiver in its commitment to “defend our interests” which he said are to “protect the integrity of the single market, to guarantee fair competition laws to our companies and our citizens”.
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He also said Brexit could not lead to the re-establishment of a hard border in Ireland.
The MEP said fishermen on the continent would need certainty about their rights after December 31.
He ruled out any arrangement which would see quotas in British seas negotiated on an annual basis, saying it “would not be technically feasible”.
Speaking to a parliamentary committee in Dublin, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said he hopes to see a trade deal in place by the start of November, after both sides failed to meet Boris Johnson’s mid-October deadline.
Mr Coveney insisted Brussels would not sell out the European fishing industry in a bid to strike a pact with London.
Despite his hopes for a deal by next month, he admitted both sides remain “miles apart” on fishing rights.
French overseas minister Annick Girardin took to Twitter on Wednesday to promote her visit to a port town in Normandy to reassure fishermen.
She said: “With @CBeaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs, this morning we are visiting the Port-en-Bessin auction in Calvados, in order to remind French fishermen that we are by their side in the Brexit negotiations.
“On this matter, the work of @MerGov consists of anticipating 2 scenarios: by January 1, 2021, we will have reached an agreement with the English or not. In this case, aid mechanisms will be put in place to support the entire sector. Together we are ready.”
France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune, who was by her side, tweeted: “Before the European Council, meeting and discussions with fishermen from #PortenBessin and elected officials.
“One goal: to defend and protect the interests of fishermen.”
Mr Beaune said fishing is just as important to France and the EU as it is to the UK and insisted the bloc would negotiate fishing rights with “great firmness”.
He said French fishermen told him and his ministerial colleague they know “Europe will not let them down.”
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg and Maria Ortega.
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