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Talks on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU could break down within weeks unless Brussels negotiators drop their demands over fisheries, UK sources are warning.
Sources close to the British negotiating team on Thursday said the UK would stick to its demand to have “control over its coastal waters” – as it continues to hold out on submitting detailed plans on fishing rights to Brussels.
Talks between the two sides have been continuing via videolink amid the coronavirus crisis, but the EU’s chief negotiator last week branded the latest round “disappointing” and accused the UK of not wanting to “commit seriously on a number of fundamental points”, including access to waters.
Fishing has been a key sticking point in talks between the two sides, with the UK highly critical of the EU’s longstanding Common Fisheries Policy, which allows member states to fish in each others’ waters based on a quota system set by the bloc.
The EU’s own mandate for Brexit trade talks says the UK and EU should fix a long-term deal on access to each others’ waters, but the UK is pressing for annual talks to set those quotas – with the ability to block EU vessels if those discussions break down.
“An independent state has control over its coastal waters.”
A UK source on Thursday said no legal text had yet been put forward by Britain because the two sides were currently “talking past each other on the issue”.
And they warned: “We have certain fundamentals on this. At the end of the year we become a country with control over our coastal waters, we become an independent coastal state, we will base our tests on science and it will be up to us to determine access by annual negotiations. That is just fundamental.”
They added: “If the EU wants to talk us about how that will work on that basis then fine.”
But they warned: “There are some fundamentals that we’re not going to change and not going to move on… They’re not just negotiating positions, because they’re what an independent state does. An independent state has control over its coastal waters. “
Mr Barnier last week said “no progress” had been made on the issue of fisheries, and attacked Britain for having “not put forward a legal text”.
He added: “The EU will not agree any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries — that should be crystal clear.”
But a British source hit back, and made clear the UK would be weighing up “whether this is a productive process or not” as a crucial high-level meeting to decide on whether or not talks will continue looms.
They said: “What we would ideally want to have seen, what we’re wanting now, is an EU understanding that we’re not going to subordinate our laws to them in any areas. We’re not going to accept the European Court’s involvement in settling disputes between us…
“If we can see that they understand our points on that then I think we’re going to be able to reach agreement. At the moment I’m not sure they quite have but it maybe takes a bit of time for some of this to sink in.”