The deadline for the EU and UK to reach a deal – the end of this year – is fast approaching, but Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier has warned an agreement by then is unlikely as the fisheries row holds up negotiations.
He said: “The UK is effectively asking for near total exclusion of EU fishing vessels from UK waters. That is simply unacceptable.”
He added that the EU was willing to accept that “there may be change to the benefit of UK fishermen” but that it would not be at the price of the “destruction of the EU fishing industry”.
Mr Barnier continued: “Over the past few weeks the UK has not shown the same level of engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU fundamental principles and interests.
“It means simply that by its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement at this point unlikely.”
The EU wants the UK to accept open fishing access and a level playing field if Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to gain access to European markets, and this is why research fellow Aaron Hatcher believes a compromise will be made.
He said that Britain’s fishermen have been promised a lot during the Brexit process.
This includes “exclusive control over UK waters, with tightly restricted access for EU boats; bigger shares of the catch quotas for a number of fish stocks, more in line with their actual abundance around the UK; and an end to burdensome and inflexible regulation under the Common Fisheries Policy”.
However, the expert highlighted reasons why these promises might not be met.
One key issue is the fact that UK fishermen export over 70 percent of their landing to EU countries, a key negotiating tool for Brussels.
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In his paper for the London School of Economics, published in March, Mr Hatcher makes a bleak prediction.
He said: “The jubilation of the UK fishing industry over Brexit could easily give way to cries of betrayal.
“But many in the industry will not be completely surprised: they felt similarly betrayed by the Government when we joined the European Community in 1973.”
As far as this expert is concerned, British fishermen’s fears that fisheries would merely be used as a bargaining chip could well be proven correct.