Brexit: French MEP says fishing ‘must remain priority’
Negotiations headed by the UK’s Lord Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier are set to continue throughout the weekend with less than two weeks to go until the end of the Brexit transition period. Both sides have admitted that significant differences remain over fisheries and the so-called level playing field rules.
Skippers across the Channel are watching closely as the prospect of them being stripped of access to Britain’s rich fishing grounds hangs over their heads.
French fisherman Laurent Merlin said if a free trade deal is not agreed he and his fellow trawlermen will not hesitate to make their fury known.
He reiterated warnings from his fellow countrymen about the potentially devastating blow a no-deal Brexit would inflict on France’s fishing industry.
French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to push hard to protect the rights of his fishermen, with next year’s election on his mind.
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Mr Merlin told Sky News: “We just won’t accept it.
“For now, we haven’t said much, because I think we still had hope, but if we end up with a no deal, then we will all take action.
“We can’t just stay here and accept it.
“I absolutely believe that of the 30 boats operating here, in two years there will only be 10 left. That’s for sure.”
The European Parliament has been pressing for an agreement by Sunday.
The aim is to allow enough time to have the trade pact ratified before December 31, when Britain will leave the transition period.
However, it is thought EU leaders could provisionally sign off on a deal if the talks go on beyond that point, with formal ratification taking place in the new year.
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Meanwhile, in the UK, MPs are on standby to return to Westminster from their Christmas break if an agreement can be struck in the final days of the year.
Despite the continuation of talks offering hope of a breakthrough following a crucial meeting between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, both sides have warned a no deal outcome remains likely.
On Friday, the Prime Minister and Mr Barnier played down the prospects of reaching a deal.
Mr Johnson said the negotiations were proving “difficult” and called on the EU to “see sense” and to bring something new to the table.
Earlier Mr Barnier told the European Parliament that the talks were approaching the “moment of truth” and that the path to an agreement was “very narrow”.
He appeared to put the onus on the UK to compromise.
On the contentious issue of fishing, the chief negotiator said the UK wants to use its “sovereignty” over its waters to strip EU boats of access “then the European Union also has to maintain its sovereign right to react or compensate adjusting conditions [to access the] single market”.
He pushed further on Brussels’ demand that fishing rights be linked to trade in a deal.
He said it was simply “unacceptable” that Britain could cut off access to UK waters while keeping the benefits of a trade deal with the EU.
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