Brexit trade talks have made little progress despite months of negotiations, making a no deal scenario more likely by the day. With two months to go until the EU-imposed deadline of October, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was “disappointed” with the stalemate last week. Mr Barnier added that “frankly I am disappointed and I am worried“ and “a little surprised” because Prime Minister Boris Johnson had told EU leaders earlier this summer he wanted an outline deal by July. He continued: “Too often this week it felt as if we were going backwards more than forwards.”
Mr Barnier also said that at this stage an agreement seemed “unlikely” and “I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time”.
His comments came after UK negotiator David Frost expressed his own feelings of frustration.
He said: “The EU is still insisting not only that we must accept continuity with EU state aid and fisheries policy, but also that this must be agreed before any further substantive work can be done in any other area of the negotiation, including on legal texts.
“This makes it unnecessarily difficult to make progress.”
While Mr Johnson is hoping for a breakthrough, figures in the EU will be just as concerned given the uncertain future for Europe’s fishermen.
Among the countries dependent on UK waters is Spain, and the country’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Food minister Luis Planas admitted the fishing industry could suffer “dramatic consequences” if no deal materialises.
It is estimated that some 200 fishing vessels with Spanish associates are operating under different flags in UK waters.
Mr Planas said: “We have 80 Spanish vessels in UK fisheries plus another 21 with British and Spanish partners.
“There are another 100 vessels flying German, French, Irish and Netherlands flags, with Spanish associates, plus the 25 from Vigo in the Falkland Islands and another 19 operating with the Falklands ensign.”
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The minister recalled in January last year that the Spanish fishing industry leads in the EU, and Spain worked hard so that “the Brexit deal reached between the EU and UK last December was most satisfactory for our industry, but now that it has been rejected by the UK parliament we have been left with a huge question sign as to what are the next steps”.
At the time Theresa May was Prime Minister, struggling to get her unpopular withdrawal agreement through Parliament.
Another key issue for Spain in Brexit talks is Gibraltar.
The territory will leave the bloc alongside the rest of the UK, but Spain holds a crucial veto right on any deal agreed, as the Gibraltar issue cannot be discussed with Brussels per Article 50 guidelines.
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Referring to the UK’s future relationship with the EU, Article 50 guidelines state that “after the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”.
Spain has a key interest in the future of the territory, as approximately 10,000 Spaniards travel to Gibraltar as cross-border workers.
This means that Gibraltarians will also be looking for a seamless transition, as the region relies on these workers, as well as money, goods, and services via access to the single market.
Gibraltarian authorities are seeking a formula that will allow the small territory to retain ties to the EU, after its approximately 34,000 residents overwhelmingly voted Remain at the 2016 Brexit referendum, El Pais reported last month.