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Brexit talks to restart as Paris hints at fishing compromise

October 12, 2020

Talks on a post-Brexit trading relationship have been deadlocked for months. But a French minister has hinted at a possible compromise on fishing rights.

Belgien Brüssel | Brexit | Handelsabkommen
Image: Reuters/O. Hoslet

Brexit talks are set to restart in Brussels on Monday as France indicated it is willing to compromise on fishing rights.

British and EU negotiators will meet in the Belgian capital in a bid to seek an agreement on their post-Brexit trading relationship.

Disagreements on key issues, such as fishing, have scuppered progress in recent months.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, warned ambassadors last week that they needed to be "realistic" about the chances of securing full access to UK waters for European trawlers.

France is one of eight coastal states that have long insisted fishing rights should remain unchanged.

They have argued it is the price that Britain must pay if it wants a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement with the EU.

But in an interview on Sunday with the France Info radio station, French minister of state for European affairs Clement Beaune hinted at a possible compromise.

"If we told our fishermen that we had drastically reduced their access to British waters — on which they depend for their economic survival — they would say that is indecent and they would be right."

"However, after Brexit, it will not be as it was before.

"But we will defend, tooth and nail, the interests of our fishermen, our farmers, our businesses and our citizens in general and we will not accept a bad deal."

Read more: UK fishing industry, or Brexit's red herrings

David Frost, the British chief negotiator, says the UK wants to conduct annual negotiations with the bloc on fishing quotas in the same way as Norway does.

"The UK sees this as a lever to gain market access to the European Union, that’s the game," said one EU ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Both sides also disagree on how to police any future trade deal.

The UK also rejects the EU's stance that it must closely follow its rules on state aid, which is defined as financial assistance or tax breaks that governments grant to businesses.

EU governments are worried that Britain is trying to gain an unfair advantage by seeking to apply different regulations.

Leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday to assess whether an agreement is within reach.

EU diplomats say they will decide whether to press ahead with the negotiations or prepare for a 'no deal' Brexit.

The UK is now in a transition period with the EU until 31 December 2020, which means it is still following EU rules and trade stays the same.

If no agreement is found, the UK and the EU would have to fall back on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, leading to a swathe of tariffs being applied on goods.