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Sources close to the EU-UK talks confirmed the major dispute about fishing rights in Britain’s coastal waters remains unsolved. The totemic issue threatens to derail the wrangling over the future relationship pact, with Downing Street and France both holding out against concessions. But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, was said to be working on a potential compromise in the hope of ending the impasse in the coming days. If not, a no deal exit seems all but inevitable.
Both teams are meeting in Brussels today after reports of progress made during a series of intensified talks in London.
A source close to the UK negotiating team said there had been little movement in the row over fishing opportunities.
“Difficult issues remain difficult,” they added.
Boris Johnson has been adamant any future EU-UK trade deal must respect Britain’s coastal sovereignty and ensure the Government controls access to its waters.
Yesterday France’s Europe Minister issued a dire threat to Mr Barnier and the UK.
Clement Beaune told the Senate: “The face of Brexit will be the face of our fishermen, so we must be able to tell them that their interests were protected.
“There is no reason for us to give in to British pressure.”
France, supported by Belgium and Denmark, are holding out for the bloc’s original demands to maintain status quo access to the UK’s fishing grounds as the price for a trade deal.
President Emmanuel Macron has previously claimed he would rather veto a pact instead of “sacrifice” his fishermen.
Trawlermen in northern France have warned they face being put out of business if they can’t catch fish in the English Channel after Brexit.
The country’s politically influential fishing industry relies on its access to UK waters, with some 98,000 tonnes of fish caught off Britain’s coast in 2011-2015.
Left unresolved, the issue will likely sink any chance of a Brexit pact between the UK and EU.
Mr Barnier insists there will be no trade deal without an agreement on future fishing opportunities.
Christophe Hansen, a senior Brexit envoy for the European Parliament, claimed both sides have “room to manoeuvre” to find a “fair deal”.
He said: “I believe there is room to manoeuvre to get a good agreement that is as fair as possible.”
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Brussels negotiators are threatening to block UK access to EU transport and energy markets unless Mr Johnson backs down.
Mr Hansen said the UK could be given preferential access to deliver energy to the EU in return for more generous terms for European trawler workers.
The Luxembourg MEP said: “The UK wants to deliver to the EU’s energy market and we want to maintain the status quo for our fishermen.
“Those are compromises we could make. Both the UK and EU have strengths and weaknesses.”
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Discussions over the future relationship are expected to continue in Brussels until early next week.
An EU official said: “Talks continue in Brussels today and for the next few days.”
Fisheries remains one of the toughest issues to solve in the coming days, with the subject still shown as a “red light” on the EU’s traffic light system for progress.
Mr Johnson and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen could be called upon as early as Tuesday to hold talks to try to broker a final compromise.
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