Last-gasp Brexit talks remain stuck over fisheries, Barnier confirms

Michel Barnier’s briefing to members of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group and EU diplomats comes with negotiations now perilously close to the 31 December deadline when the UK’s transition period will end.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

23 Dec 2020

It is feared that Brexit talks now risk dragging beyond Christmas, although a European Parliament deadline set for last Sunday has come and gone.

MEPs had demanded that a legal text of any deal be ready and presented to them by midnight on December 20.

Deputies said that, otherwise, there would be insufficient time for them to scrutinise any agreed text and vote on it.

In his meetings on Tuesday, Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said that he could not give any indication whether or not there will be a deal on future EU-UK relations before Christmas.

Even if one is yet agreed, it would now have to enter into force provisionally followed by a “consent vote” by the European Parliament in the new year, it is believed.

EPP leader Manfred Weber reacted to the latest news by saying, “Political games from Westminster have wasted too much time.”

“The EU refuses to accept a reduction of more than 25 percent in the value of fish caught, saying even that was hard for countries like France and Denmark to accept”

MEPs, however, “will remain constructive partners” and “alternative procedures are possible,” the German member said in a statement.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen intervened personally on Tuesday, holding several phone conversations, in a bid to break the impasse.

Elsewhere, NHS leaders in the UK have called on Johnson to extend the transition period by a month, telling the Prime Minister that a no-deal exit could risk the health of patients during the COVID-19 crisis.

In other new developments, it appears that the EU is considering a new British proposal on UK fishing rights. Fisheries is one of the major points of contention in the attempts to find a post-Brexit trade agreement.

The EU refuses to accept a reduction of more than 25 percent in the value of fish caught, saying even that was hard for countries like France and Denmark to accept.

Boris Johnson has now proposed an agreement under which the EU would have to cut the value of fish caught in UK waters by a third, according to reports.

“Political games from Westminster have wasted too much time” Manfred Weber, EPP Chairman

On Wednesday, a UK government source said that the talks were continuing in Brussels between Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost.

If there is no deal - a scenario which many now see as the likely outcome - the UK will leave the EU at the end of this month on WTO terms.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) has welcomed the proposal of the European Council to set-up a “Brexit Adjustment Reserve.”

The Rennes-based CPMR says that “logistical disruptions” have already started affecting trade between the UK and EU Member States.

Member regions of the CPMR have signed a political declaration “establishing the elements that will be crucial when setting up the Brexit Adjustment Reserve in order for the instrument to successfully address the challenges faced by the EU.”

“The level of ambition of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve proposal must be mirrored now in the design and implementation of this instrument,” said Cees Loggen, Regional Minister of Noord-Holland and president of the CPMR.

“Regional authorities are the best placed to ensure that the specific territorial needs arising from Brexit are effectively addressed”, he added.

With days until the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period Britain’s House of Commons’ Brexit select committee has called on the government to ensure there is a robust contingency plan in place in the next fortnight to cope with the fallout as it criticises the lack of an “overall state of readiness” for business and citizens.

“With just seven working days until the end of the transition period, significant concerns remain,” said Labour MP Hilary Benn, chair of the cross-party committee.

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