Negotiations have reached breaking point as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s October 15 deadline for a deal arrives. It is likely talks will be extended, but time is nonetheless running out for Brussels and London to reach a compromise on state aid, the level playing field and fisheries. Fishing remains a stumbling block as differences remain between the EU and UK, as well as feuding member states. The ‘Group of Eight’ coastal countries, which rely on UK fishing grounds, are urging Mr Barnier not to back down. The UK wants sole control of its waters, but Brussels has warned that without access for European countries, Britain will be excluded from Europe’s markets.
EU nations took an increasingly hard line on fishing, as displayed earlier this month.
Mr Barnier has been speaking this week by video link to ministers from the Group of Eight, including Ireland, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, France and Sweden.
Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue spoke to Mr Barnier.
Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation said: “Barnier is trying to twist [fisheries ministers’] arms, but my understanding is that he hasn’t been successful in doing that.”
Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, told RTE that he feared the consequences without a deal.
He said: “There are 400 vessels from the EU known to fish between the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the French Channel, off the Shetlands, that fish inside UK waters.
“If they are denied access, where are they going to go? We have 164 [Irish] vessels over 18 metres length.
“In 2006 we had 280. We’ve already taken the pain as a nation to sustain the stocks off our coastline for everybody else to fish.
“We’re down nearly 50 percent of our fleet in 10 years. So, it would be crazy now to see an influx of boats back into that area.
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Speaking in the Netherlands – which also wants access to UK coastal waters – he said a deal “remains possible”, but “certainly not by sacrificing the interests of our fishermen”.
Denmark is also putting up a fight, as the country’s fishing communities face significant challenges if the UK and EU cannot strike a deal.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen believes she may have a plan to help her country remain active in British fishing grounds.
In 2017, Denmark built a legal case claiming the country’s historic rights to fish in Britain’s waters date back to the 1400s.