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Fisheries officials from eight coastal member states throughout the continent have agreed unanimously the bloc’s chief negotiator should step up his demands in the talks, with a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) depending on a deal being struck on fisheries. Britain, which has long been seen to hold the upper handing in fisheries talks, is looking for a much larger share of fish quotas from stocks which cross over into its waters, with the ability to be able to reduce the amount of access EU vessels can have in UK waters after Brexit. The EU, in turn, wants to stay as close to possible to current quota shares and access rights under the much-hated Common Fisheries Policy, and now member states are piling the pressure on Mr Barnier to stick to his negotiating mandate.
The chief Brexit negotiator has held talks with ministers from the Group of Eight coastal states, which consist of Ireland, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, France and Sweden.
Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, warned: “Barnier is trying to twist fisheries ministers’ arms, but my understanding is that he hasn’t been successful in doing that.
“I think the message he is getting is: you have a mandate, and within that mandate you have a number of cards to play.”
EU officials insist an FTA is not possible without a deal on fisheries, which they think provides Mr Barnier with considerable leverage, but some fisheries organisations fear he is not yet using that advantage handed to him.
Mr O’Donoghue warned: “Fisheries is linked to the wider trade negotiations. All we hear is that the linkage is there, but what use of the linkage is being made? There’s absolutely zero being said about that.
“There are 400 vessels from the EU known to fish between the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the French Channel, off the Shetlands, that fish inside UK waters,” says Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation.
“If they are denied access, where are they going to go? We have 164 Irish vessels over 18 metres length. In 2006 we had 280. We’ve already taken the pain as a nation to sustain the stocks off our coastline for everybody else to fish.
“We’re down nearly 50 percent of our fleet in 10 years, so it would be crazy now to see an influx of boats back into that area. That would harm the biologically sensitive areas of our fishing waters. That would harm everybody. Michel Barnier was given the task to keep the status quo for the good of everybody, including the UK.”
Brussels correspondent Nick Gutteridge tweeted: “Someone on the EU side recently observed that the UK is making Barnier’s job easy by not offering up any compromises, meaning he’s under no real pressure.
“Here are EU coastal states returning the favour to Frost. Fisheries is the UK’s main leverage, and this just reinforces that.”
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8.10am update: Ireland warns of ‘very challenging situation’ if UK breaches international law
Ireland has warned it would find itself in a “very challenging situation” if the UK Government were to breach international law with the Internal Market Bill, which would override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU last year.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said Britain had made commitments to additional checks with Northern Ireland under the protocol, which would protect the EU’s Single Market, but warned people would be “shocked and surprised” if the UK were to breach those commitments.
She told the Justice Committee: “Obviously we know that the first stage of the Internal Market Bill has been progressed and if it is implemented and we do find ourselves in that situation – it’s not something that’s being prepared for within my own department – but I do think we would find ourselves in a very challenging situation if the UK were to breach international law and if they were to breach an international agreement.
“We know that there are already checks on a certain amount of goods coming from in from the UK through Northern Ireland and into the south. That would not change even if this were to be implemented.
“However, what’s required under the Northern Ireland Protocol is that there would be additional checks required to ensure the integrity of the Single Market. It’s unfortunately not legislation that I’m working on within our department but it’s something that we would have to look at I’m sure, absolutely.
“There is an obligation and I think we would all be very shocked and surprised if the UK were to breach the commitment that they have made and their international obligations in this regard.”
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