The EU and UK have embarked on an intensified final phase of Brexit talks today after Britain agreed to lift its block on negotiations. The breakthrough came after a call between the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost, with both sides agreeing to restart talks. Negotiations had been deadlocked since last week because of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to demand a “fundamental” rethink from the bloc before allowing further meetings.
Mr Barnier and Lord Frost agreed on a 10-point plan for this “next and final phase of the negotiations”, including working through weekends and establishing a “small joint secretariat” “to hold a master consolidated text”.
However, a Downing Street spokesperson said “it is clear that significant gaps remain between our positions in the most difficult areas”, such as fisheries and the level playing field.
Mr Johnson had criticised a statement adopted by EU leaders at a summit last week that called on the UK “to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”, saying there was no point continuing talks if all concessions needed to come from the British side.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, though, Brexiteer and former Ukip MP Douglas Carswell suggested that there is an area Britain could easily compromise in to reach a deal.
He said: “It may be possible to do a phased deal on fisheries
“It may be possible to say ‘it is an adjustment process for everyone, so let’s phase the arrangement over a period of three to four years.
“I think most British eurosceptics would accept that if the end goal was national sovereignty and if we got there in a way respectful to the environment
“It could be done in a phased way, yes.
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“That’s a perfect acceptable position to find common ground with France.”
Before the negotiations on a future trade deal between the UK and Brussels even started, the French government made it clear to Mr Barnier that he had to push for stronger commitments on regulatory alignments and access to UK fishing waters in return for maintaining free trade.
Ever since the 2016 EU referendum, French President Emmanuel Macron has been championing the bloc’s fisheries demands.
In 2018, he suggested that if the UK was unwilling to compromise in negotiations on fishing, then talks on a wider trade deal would have been slow.
In February, the Frenchman claimed he was willing to put up a fight over the issue. He appears to have kept his word.
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As he arrived at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels today, he said: “In no case shall our fishermen be sacrificed for Brexit.
“If these conditions are not met, it’s possible we won’t have a deal. If the right terms can’t be found at the end of these discussions, we’re ready for a no-deal for our future relations.”
According to Brussels sources, at the beginning of October the UK did offer a three-year transition period for European fishing fleets to allow them to prepare for the post-Brexit changes as part of an 11th-hour deal sweetener.
The catches of EU fishermen would be “phased down” between 2021 and 2024 to offer time for European coastal communities to adapt to the changes.
The idea of a phase-down period had been floated previously but details had not been provided until recent days.
However, the news immediately angered the British fishing industry, with the head of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations warning that anything which smacked of “Common Fisheries Policy-lite” would be “unacceptable”.
In a letter to the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, the head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), Elspeth Macdonald, added it was “imperative at this crucial stage that the UK remains steadfast”, noting: “Anything given away now will never be regained.”