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European capitals have signalled a willingness to broker a compromise to secure future access to Britain’s coastal waters. But Paris was said to be holding out to maintain the status quo for French trawlermen after the end of the transition period in December. The row over fisheries remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks in finding a post-Brexit deal in the coming weeks.
Influential member states will tell President Macron there are much larger economic issues to consider, such as the regulatory level playing field.
Hinting at growing divisions between capitals, one EU insider said fisheries are “important for certain parts of Europe” but the “level playing field is key for all”.
The insidered added: “If you have no way to react to unfair competition you are in a situation where you might destroy your own economy – that’s a concern for leaders.”
And another senior diplomat said Angela Merkel is expected to warn President Macron to back down or risk losing all access to British waters.
The source said: “Everybody knows if there is no deal then European quota in British waters is zero – now it’s 100 percent.
“Johnson has said there needs to be a significant difference, it’s politically sensitive but technically possible.”
But last night Paris was sticking to its hard line and threatened to block a deal over fishing.
Europe minister Clement Beaune said: “The British want their waters back and this, they believe, gives them leverage.
“But they forget that for everything else they are negotiating on, they have a lot more to ask than to offer.”
And one diplomat from another EU state warned: “If anything I think the EU position might be hardening rather than softening.”
EU leaders are expected to get “stuck in” when they hold their first detailed Brexit discussion in over 12 months at a summit in Brussels tomorrow.
The most influential capitals will urge their colleagues to move towards a compromise if Boris Johnson signals a move towards the bloc’s position in a phone call later today with EU presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
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One diplomatic source said: “The deadline is really a British deadline; it’s not an EU deadline.
“That said I think the heads of state and government will want to send a strong signal that they’re interested, willing to negotiate for as long as possible that they want an agreement and that the negotiations should be intensified now but I don’t see them sending the sort of signal that would lead to an early agreement, that was never intended.”
Another senior European diplomat added: “What we want to show is we are willing and ready once the UK moves to work really, really hard as necessary to work in time to conclude a deal – just to show there’s a huge interest on our side because of the size of economic relationship.”
Mr Johnson is expected to make concessions on implementing controls over future state subsidies before the bloc climbs down on fisheries.
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One European government compared achieving a compromise with the Prime Minister on state aid to convincing a child to eat their vegetables.
“It’s wise to eat vegetables to be healthy. But if it’s a really big problem for a child, do you force it in their mouth or find another option?” asked one source.
Lord Frost will advise Mr Johnson the EU would need to commit to round-the-clock negotiations over the next two weeks in order to broker a trade deal.
Downing Street is frustrated at Michel Barnier for dragging his feet and refusing to engage in a genuine discussion on legal texts.
The Prime Minister will send this warning to Mr Michel and Mrs von der Leyen tonight ahead of the leadership summit.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “There are still differences, with fisheries being the starkest. We need to get substance settled and not having a common text to work from has made progress doubly difficult.
“The PM’s September 7 statement was very clear about the significance of October 15. He will need to take a decision on next steps following the European Council in the light of his conversation with President von der Leyen, and on advice from his negotiating team. We cannot prejudge that decision.”
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