MICHEL BARNIER will today tell Lord Frost he is prepared to drop the EU’s hardline fisheries despite facing an internal rebellion over the planned concession.
The European Union’s chief negotiator was said to be ready to “move away” from the bloc’s demand to retain the same level of access to Britain’s coastal waters after the Brexit transition period ends in December. But he is under pressure from influential EU fishing states, including France, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, to avoid any last-minute compromise as Boris Johnson’s deadline looms over the negotiations. Mr Barnier has told EU ambassadors the bloc must help the Prime Minister secure a victory for Scottish fishermen by giving them a greater share of future fishing opportunities.
The Brussels bureaucrat will signal his willingness to budge but only if Lord Frost, Mr Johnson’s Brexit envoy, is prepared to offer more reassurances over future state subsidies policy. European diplomatic sources say the bloc is now more willing to cave on fish in return for a more robust regulatory level playing field than was previously proposed by British negotiators.
One senior insider told Express.co.uk: “It’s one of the realities of Brexit, let’s say an unpleasant change for us, but we understand how the British fishermen on the other side of the Channel think.” During a visit to Ireland yesterday, European Council president Charles Michel signalled the compromise by suggesting a fair fisheries deal is “important” but the level playing field is “key” for European states. He added: “We need significant steps to be made by our British friends in the coming days, not only on fisheries but also on the level playing field and governance.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the coming days are crucial – this is the moment of truth.” The eurocrat said the UK and EU faces a “moment of truth” ahead of next weeks’ crunch summit of European leaders. Brussels sources said plans are already being drawn up to ease opposition from President Emmanuel Macron to Mr Barnier’s watered down fisheries demands.
Diplomats say the French leader will be blamed by northern fishing towns for suddenly losing access to British waters. One source said: “If there is no deal, he will be made responsible – and it’s even worse for French fishermen.” But France hinted it would not back down in the row over access to Britain’s fishing grounds after Brexit.
European affairs minister Clement Beaune said: “Our fishermen will not be a bargaining chip for Brexit, they will not have to pay the price for Britain’s choices.” He said a deal “remains possible” but “certainly not by sacrificing the interests of our fishermen. A bad deal would be the worst outcome. And so we are ready for a no-deal scenario, and we will not accept a bad compromise.”
Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said it was “not to late for a deal” but stressed the importance of fisheries. He said: “To succeed for our fishermen, for everyone, it is enormously important that France, the Netherlands and all of Europe stay united.”
Image by Reimund Bertrams
By JOE BARNES, EXPRESS BRUSSELS CORRESPONDENT