Brexit: Britain and EU make ‘major breakthrough’ on fishing rights

Britain and the EU have made a ‘major breakthrough’ in Brexit negotiations on the rights of European fleets to fish in UK waters, Brussels claimed last night.

The two sides are finalising terms on the level of access for European boats to waters within Britain’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, with a transition period for the phase-in changes to be between five and seven years.  

The talks are now going to the wire on the  ‘ratchet clause’, under which London would have to follow EU social, environmental and labour standards as they develop over time or face tariffs on UK exports, the Guardian reports. 

France and Germany had told EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that Britain must be punished for diverging from the EU rulebook, after ministers warned that Boris Johnson is not bluffing about going through with a no-deal. 

Mr Barnier and the UK’s David Frost resumed negotiations in Brussels after a call between the PM and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen failed to achieve a breakthrough. 

Lord Frost had said the sides were ‘working very hard to get a deal’, with the leaders crucially due to take stock on progress tomorrow – while Ireland had insisted that it believed a way would be found to avoid a ‘very, very costly’ collapse in talks. 

The Cabinet indicated it will back the PM if he decides there is no point in continuing efforts to settle new trade terms before the transition period ends on January 1.

And Labour ex-PM Gordon Brown delivered a stark warning that the collapse of negotiations would mean ‘economic war’ with both the EU and the US, with problems getting food and drugs into the UK.  

Boris Johnson (pictured during his phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen) will make 'one last throw of the dice' in trade talks with the EU on Monday to avert a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month as negotiations remained deadlocked this weekend

Boris Johnson (pictured during his phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen) will make 'one last throw of the dice' in trade talks with the EU on Monday to avert a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month as negotiations remained deadlocked this weekend

Boris Johnson (pictured during his phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen) will make ‘one last throw of the dice’ in trade talks with the EU on Monday to avert a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month as negotiations remained deadlocked this weekend 

Lord Frost

Lord Frost

Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier

Lord Frost (pictured left today) and Michel Barnier (right) are resuming talks in Brussels

An hour-long phone call between the Prime Minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) failed to resolve the 'significant differences' between London and Brussels

An hour-long phone call between the Prime Minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) failed to resolve the 'significant differences' between London and Brussels

An hour-long phone call between the Prime Minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) failed to resolve the ‘significant differences’ between London and Brussels

In interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the ‘next few days’ will show whether the EU is bluffing in a bid to ‘get a few things over the line’.

Britons who fail to renew passports will be barred from EU 

Millions of Britons could be barred from entry to the EU in the New Year unless they renew passports.

Visas will not be needed for short tourist trips whether or not there is a Brexit trade deal, but fears have been raised that large numbers of people could still be caught out when the transition period ends on January 1. 

UK passports are currently valid in the EU and other countries in the Schengen free movement zone right up until their expiry date. 

However, from January they must have at least six months left to run. 

This means that those whose passports expire in the summer of 2021 will be unable to travel in the spring. 

Crucially, people whose passports do not expire until the end of 2021 or even the start of 2022 might also be at risk of falling foul of the rules.

That is because UK passports can last up to 10 years and nine months rather than the standard 10 years – in recognition that renewal can happen when there is still time left on an old document. 

The EU is set to ignore the extra nine months as well as the final six when it decides if a passport is valid.

The UK Passport Office issues five million every year, although it is not clear how many of those are new documents and how many renewals. 

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‘We will continue to work on these negotiations until there is no point in doing so any further,’ he told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday. 

‘We have always been clear that if we can’t get an agreement we will be leaving as the PM says on Australia terms.’   

Mr Brown warned this morning: ‘If there is no deal now I see huge international implications from what he fails to deliver. We would be in an economic war with Europe that would cost us very dearly.

‘But we would also be in an economic war with America. There would be no chance of a trade treaty with America. Boris Johnson is going to end up as the most isolated PM in history.’ 

French demands for Britain to remain tied to EU rules have been highlighted as the biggest remaining obstacle.

If the impasse is not broken by tomorrow evening, when Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen speak again, Mr Johnson could take to the airwaves to inform Britons that the UK is leaving without a trade deal. 

The middle of this week is regarded as the very final deadline because Parliament and EU states must approve the deal. There is a summit in Brussels on Thursday an Friday.

The Government’s scope to make concessions in the talks is limited by pressure from Brexit-supporting Tory backbenchers – with threats to try to force a leadership contest if the Prime Minister surrenders any of the country’s post-EU freedoms.

Mr Eustice said the negotiations were in a ‘very difficult position – there is no point denying that’.

‘There was some hope early last week, some progress was being made, and at one point it looked like there might be a breakthrough but then the European Union added a whole load of additional demands after that which caused some problems,’ he said.

‘We will continue to work on these negotiations until there is no point doing so any further but there is no point denying that what happened late last week was a setback.’

After making the call from his Chequers country escape, Mr Johnson released a joint statement with Ms von der Leyen which said that ‘significant differences remain on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries’.

It said: ‘Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved. Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.

British negotiators were left stunned by a sudden hardening of the EU position at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured), who said he would veto any deal that threatened French interests

British negotiators were left stunned by a sudden hardening of the EU position at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured), who said he would veto any deal that threatened French interests

British negotiators were left stunned by a sudden hardening of the EU position at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured), who said he would veto any deal that threatened French interests

In interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the 'next few days' will show whether the EU is bluffing in a bid to 'get a few things over the line'

In interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the 'next few days' will show whether the EU is bluffing in a bid to 'get a few things over the line'

Labour ex-PM Gordon Brown delivered a stark warning that the collapse of negotiations would mean 'economic war' with both the EU and the US, with problems getting food and drugs into the UK

Labour ex-PM Gordon Brown delivered a stark warning that the collapse of negotiations would mean 'economic war' with both the EU and the US, with problems getting food and drugs into the UK

In interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice (left) said the ‘next few days’ will show whether the EU is bluffing in a bid to ‘get a few things over the line’. Labour ex-PM Gordon Brown (right) delivered a stark warning that the collapse of negotiations would mean ‘economic war’ with both the EU and the US, with problems getting food and drugs into the UK

‘We are therefore instructing our chief negotiators to reconvene tomorrow in Brussels. We will speak again on Monday evening.’ 

Simon Coveney told RTE: ‘Not having a structured future relationship agreement in place is going to be very, very costly and very, very disruptive for the UK and for Ireland.

‘That, in the context of a post-Covid world which is hugely challenging economically for everybody, doesn’t make any political sense and it certainly doesn’t make any economic or social sense either.

Eustice admits there will be ‘some impact’ on food prices from no deal Brexit 

George Eustice has acknowledged there will be ‘some impact’ on food prices if the UK fails to get a trade deal with the EU.

But the Environment Secretary insisted any impact on goods such as beef and pork was likely to be ‘quite modest’. 

‘There will be some impact on prices but the analysis that has been done by some of the economic modellers is that it is quite modest – less than 2 per cent as a result of tariffs,’ Mr Eustice told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

‘It would be higher on some things such as beef and pork but those make up a relatively small proportion of the overall family shop,’ he added.

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‘For all of those reasons, I think the negotiating teams and senior politicians will find a way of getting a deal here, but at the moment we are in a difficult place as we try to close it out.’

Seasoned observers believe there is stall the chance of a last-minute agreement, with speculation that both sides are posturing and trying to extract maximum concessions.  

The call between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen took place after Mr Barnier and Lord Frost announced on Friday that they were putting the talks on ‘pause’ after the latest round of negotiations failed to achieve breakthrough.

Lord Frost is back in Brussels with a small team of negotiators to attempt to work through the remaining issues.

While in the past much of the focus has been on the differences over fisheries, British sources indicated they would be looking particularly at the so-called ‘level playing field’ rules on issues like state aid for business.

A source close to the talks said: ‘This is the final throw of the dice. 

‘There is a fair deal to be done that works for both sides but this will only happen if the EU is willing to respect fundamental principles of sovereignty and control.’

British negotiators were left stunned by a sudden hardening of the EU position at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he would veto any deal that threatened French interests. 

One source called them ‘unprecedented last-minute demands incompatible with our commitment to becoming a sovereign nation’, adding: ‘There is barely any time left, and this process may not end in agreement.’ 

In a further complicating factor, the UK Government is bringing back to the Commons legislation enabling it to override elements of Mr Johnson’s ‘divorce’ settlement with Brussels in breach of international law.

Don’t let Britain become a permanent ‘client state’, MPs warn amid fears negotiators will cave in to Brussels on fish and the ‘level playing field’ 

Die-hard Tories warned an under-fire Boris Johnson that the UK could become a permanent ‘client state’ of the EU if British negotiators cave in to Brussels on fishing rights and the ‘level playing field’. 

With the UK’s chances of striking a trade deal with Brussels teetering, pro-Brexit backbenchers fear that the PM will break his promises to Leave voters in last year’s General Election – amid reports that he has agreed to defer repatriating up to half of the fishing quotas for several years.   

In turn, British officials hit out French President Emmanuel Macron, who they accused of pushing talks to the brink of collapse by pressuring EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to take a hardline stance. 

The French President has also been pushing for French trawlers to maintain their access to UK waters, and is said to have demanded a 10-year transition to any reduction in EU fishing access – which No10 finds unacceptable. A senior government official told the Times the proposal is ‘not something that we can agree to or sell’.

Mr Barnier, who has been in London to try to hash out a deal, has also called for further concessions from the UK on state aid, with Mr Macron determined to protect French firms from British competition.

And tensions were ratcheted up after France’s Europe minister, Charles Beaune, publicly announced that Paris would veto any post-Brexit trade deal that went against French interests. 

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith called fishing a ‘totemic issue’ and said the UK needed to start with control over ‘100 per cent’. He also insisted that Britain be treated like Norway, which sets its own fishing quotas. 

Theresa Villiers, the former Environment Secretary, added that Britain could be ‘locked in as a client state’ if it did not secure regulatory autonomy, calling this the ‘main means’ by which the EU could ‘tie us into their laws’.     

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MPs will vote tomorrow on whether to overturn amendments by the House of Lords which removed the provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the Irish border.

MPs will then go on later in the week to consider the Taxation (Post-Transition Period) Bill which contains further similar provisions.

The legislation has infuriated the EU and – if it is passed – could further sour the mood in the negotiations making a deal harder to reach.

Peter Bone, one of the ‘Spartans’, a group of Tory MPs named for their hard line on Brexit, said: ‘I would bet my house Boris won’t sell out Britain in any deal he gets.’ 

Fellow Spartan Marcus Fysh insisted Brussels – not Mr Johnson – would have to compromise.

Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves called on both sides to resolve their differences as swiftly as possible.

‘The British people were promised a deal and, with time running out, we urge both sides to get on with reaching an agreement,’ she said.

However, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage expressed concern that they were moving towards yet another extension of Britain’s period under EU rules.

‘I do hope that this lack of an agreement does not mean we are heading for an extension,’ he tweeted.

‘After four and a half years, Brexit voters won’t tolerate that.’

Meanwhile, a Tory former minister has warned food shortages could emerge in the UK given many lorry drivers plan to ‘give Britain a miss’ in January and February.

Damian Green made the claim as he discussed the impact of Brexit on his Ashford constituency in Kent, including traffic issues, and beyond.

Mr Green told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend: ‘A lot of lorry drivers are saying they’ll just give Britain a miss for the first couple of months of next year.

‘That could lead to a threat of shortages of parts for manufacturing and even possibly of food and so on, so we’ll have to see what many thousands of individuals take as individual decisions in the first couple of weeks next year.’

Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers said the Government will need to look to ‘provide appropriate support’ to firms ‘hit especially hard’ by a no-deal scenario.

She told the same programme: ‘There is a chance of a deal, but what mustn’t happen is if we end up with a deal that ties us into the EU’s laws and court and prevent us from taking back control over our laws and our ability to regulate our own economy.’

Mr Eustice acknowledged there will be ‘some impact’ on food prices if the UK fails to get a trade deal with the EU.

‘There will be some impact on prices but the analysis that has been done by some of the economic modellers is that it is quite modest – less than 2 per cent as a result of tariffs,’ he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show..

‘It would be higher on some things such as beef and pork but those make up a relatively small proportion of the overall family shop,’ he added.

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