EU May Back Down on Fishing Demands While UK Govt Ramps up No Deal Preparations: Reports

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31: A man poses in a Union Jack suit at Parliament Square as people prepare for Brexit on January 31, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. At 11.00pm on Friday 31st January the UK and Northern Ireland will exit the European Union 188 weeks after the referendum …
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The European Union’s post-Brexit trade negotiators are reportedly planning to back down on its demands for continued access to Britain’s fishing waters. Meanwhile, the British government has returned civil servants to the front line of planning for a ‘no deal’.

Brussels has been pushing for the continuation of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which sees member-states free to fish in more than 60 per cent of the UK’s territorial waters. Under the CFP, for example, France lands 84 per cent of English Channel cod while the UK is allocated only nine per cent. As well as France, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands back the “maximalist” approach in negotiations over fishing.

At the beginning of May, sources had predicted that UK-EU trade negotiations could collapse over the CFP or London’s refusal to submit to Brussels’ demand for continued regulatory alignment. But a senior EU diplomatic source speaking to The Times admitted: “We should probably get more realistic about our fishing position.”

“These are the things that have to be decided at a much higher level than Frost or Barnier. The pandemic is destroying everything in the sense that everybody’s mind is focused on something totally different to Brexit, which is the recovery in the exit strategy,” the source said in comments reported on Monday.

The EU is also demanding a “level playing field” on regulations related to issues include state intervention in industry and environmental restrictions, as well as continued oversight by the European Court of Justice. The UK is seeking a “Canada style” free trade agreement that would involve lifting tariffs on the vast majority of goods and services as well as the UK regaining autonomy over her immigration laws, regulations, and fishing waters.

The government has said that if the UK and EU do not make sufficient progress on a deal by June, London will pull out of negotiations and prepare to trade with the bloc on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms in time for the end of the transition period on December 31st, 2020.

Meanwhile, The Times reported on Sunday that the government’s XO (exit operations) no-deal planning committee, which is led by senior minister Michael Gove in the Cabinet Office, is meeting more frequently.

“XO is moving to a more regular rhythm over the next week or so,” a source told the newspaper of record.

The last round of negotiations resulted in deadlock, with the UK’s senior EU trade negotiator David Frost reportedly telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Mr Barnier was “losing the argument”, according to The Telegraph.

On Friday, Mr Frost had said that his team had “made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues” with Brussels’ negotiators. He accused the bloc of insisting on “an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement”.

“The major obstacle to this is the EU’s insistence on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals on the so-called ‘level playing field’ which would bind this country to EU law or standards, or determine our domestic legal regimes, in a way that is unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the Political Declaration,” he said.

Former international trade secretary Liam Fox told viewers of Sky News on Sunday that the bloc is putting the “purity” of Brussels conformity ahead of the benefits a flexible, free trade deal with the UK would make in a world where economies have been negatively affected by the Chinese coronavirus.

“It does seem that even now, when we are seeing this contraction in global trade, that the European Union is willing to put the purity of the Ever Closer Union political project ahead of the economic wellbeing around the world, including people in the European Union,” Mr Fox said.

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