Posted on May 01, 2020
Boris Johnson's government signalled this week that it is prepared to walk away from a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU unless Brussels drops its demands over access to UK fishing grounds.
The EU is insisting that the UK continues to abide by the Common Fisheries Policy after the transition period ends on December 31st.
But according to the Daily Express, sources close to the UK negotiating team have suggested that Brussels had to realise this was "never gonna happen", and that "If they continue to insist on their position on a so-called level playing field and on continuing the Common Fisheries Policy, for example, we are never going to accept that. Draw your own conclusion from that but I hope they will move on."
The UK insists on treating access to its waters as separate from a trade deal, not least because of environmental and security considerations, but Brussels has insisted the two must be linked.
The issue is now emerging as critical to both sides. For the European Commission, suffering from a loss of credibility following the almost overnight collapse of integrity of the Schengen Agreement, which guarantees free movement between the member states, as governments closed their borders, to back down would be seen as a major defeat.
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At member state level the situation is no less fraught. President Macron told the French press “I want to tell our fishermen that I will fight for them. If we do not get the same access as today, we will seek compensation. I will not let our fishermen be impacted by a British vote they could do nothing about.”
The issue of compensation could provide political space for compromise: however Johnson, whose handling of the coronavirus outbreak is attracting wide-spread criticism at home, will fully understand the importance of walking away from what may be the final battlefield with total victory under his belt.
Paying compensation to French, and presumably to Spanish and Portuguese fishermen, would be seen as defeat by a British public for whom the fisheries issue is one of, if not the most important, issues of what may go down in history as "The Battle of Brexit".
Image: European Parliament via YouTube
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