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Brexit talks

Fishing deal denied amid new deadline concerns

Emmanuel Macron

French president Emmanuel Macron is being urged to soften his stance

Talk of a major breakthrough in Brexit negotiations on the rights of European fleets to fish in UK waters were played down last night, as a business organisation issued another warning over firms’ level of readiness for the end of the transition period.

Sources in Brussels told The Guardian that the two negotiating teams had all but finalised terms on the level of access for EU boats to seas within the UK’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

There would be a transition period for phasing in changes understood to be between five and seven years.

However, Downing Street later rubbished the claims, with a Government source saying: “There’s been no breakthrough on fish. Nothing new has been achieved on this today.”

British sources have warned that the latest round of talks is “the final throw of the dice” and the process may still conclude without an agreement with the Cabinet ready to back a No Deal Brexit.


Thirteen Cabinet ministers – including eight remainers – are said to be supporting Mr Johnson walking away without a deal.

There is talk of Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a televised address to the nation announcing there is No Deal and putting the blame squarely on the EU.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron is facing pressure from fellow EU leaders to back down on his demands for full access to British waters. British officials claimed he derailed progress last week by forcing EU negotiator Michel Barnier to toughen his stance at the last minute.

But with time running out European leaders warned it was vital to strike a trade agreement.

The fevered speculation continued as the British Chambers of Commerce issued a list of 24 critical issues that need to be resolved to allow firms to prepare for the end of Britain’s trading deal with EU at the end of the month.

With only three weeks remaining of the Brexit transition period, negotiations between the UK and EU are delicately poised amid threats by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to declare there will be No Deal.

Michel 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. 

Another key sticking point is the “level-playing field”, with the EU wanting guarantees that the UK will commit not to undercut EU standards in a range of areas, but the UK seeing that as an unacceptable infringement on its sovereignty. 

Lord Frost said the sides were ‘working very hard to get a deal’, with the leaders due to extend negotiations today.

There will be another call between Mr Johnson and von der Leyen scheduled for this evening. In terms of the market reaction, sterling has moved slightly lower this morning, down -0.16% against the US dollar.

The UK government’s controversial Internal Market Bill will arrive back in the House of Commons. This is the bill which sought to break parts of the already-reached Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, with the EU reacting very negatively to its publication. After it passed the House of Commons, the House of Lords amended the bill to take out the controversial sections, but the government has said it will reinstate them in the Commons today. 

As the talks dragged on the BCC warned that 24 of 35 key questions remain unanswered Among them:

  • firms still do not know what rules of origin will apply after the transition period
  • there remains very limited guidance on procedures for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland  
  • there is no information on how UK tariff rate quotas will be administered or how businesses can access them beyond the transition period 

BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “With just weeks to go, businesses need answers, and they need them now. 

Adam Marshall

Adam Marshall: ‘business needs answers’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“Posters and television adverts are no substitute for the clear, detailed and actionable information businesses require to prepare for the end of transition.  

“We welcome the fact that UK and EU leaders are still talking, as the overwhelming majority of businesses want the two sides to reach an agreement. 

“If a breakthrough happens over the coming hours and days, the two sides must immediately set to work on pragmatic steps to smooth the introduction of the new arrangements from January, including easements for genuine administrative errors, clear procedures at ports, and fast help from customs authorities.”  

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