EU risks fresh Brexit fishing row with UK over no-deal contingency plans

The EU has risked provoking a fresh fishing row with the UK over its offer of contingency measures in the event there is no post-Brexit trade deal by 1 January.

Brussels on Thursday offered a series of short-term mini-deals for planes, lorries and fishing boats, should there be no full trade deal between the two sides at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Trade negotiations are still deadlocked ahead of that deadline, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed at a three-hour dinner on Wednesday night that talks should continue ahead of a final decision this weekend.

Travellers arriving from the European Union at London Stansted Airport, in Essex. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday September 21, 2017. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Image: The EU has offered a six-month period for planes to keep flying

Ms von der Leyen on Thursday warned that even if a UK-EU trade deal is reached in the coming days, there is “no guarantee” it will be ratified in time for 1 January.

She outlined four areas – air connectivity, aviation safety, basic road connectivity, and fisheries – where short-term agreements could be made in the absence of a trade deal on New Year’s Day.

These would keep planes flying, lorries moving, and allow EU fishing boats to continue working in UK waters in the event of a no-deal outcome.

However, some Brexiteers reacted with anger at the EU demand for continued fishing access, which has been viewed by some as an apparent trade-off for uninterrupted air and road travel between the UK and the bloc.

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Meanwhile, parts of the mini-deals offered by the EU to the UK contain the same demands for so-called level playing field provisions that have been – along with fishing rights – such a contentious aspect of post-Brexit trade negotiations.

The EU’s offer includes proposals for new regulations to “ensure the provision of certain air services between the UK and the EU” for six months, should the UK ensure the same.

In order to avoid the grounding of EU aircraft, the bloc is also proposing a new law to ensure “various safety certificates for products can continue to be used in EU aircraft without disruption”.

In exchange for the UK assuring the same to EU hauliers, Brussels is offering legislation covering “basic connectivity with regard to both road freight and road passenger transport” for six months.

And, for fisheries, the EU is proposing a year-long legal framework for “continued reciprocal access by EU and UK vessels to each other’s waters” in 2021.

The bloc said such a framework could end earlier than 31 December next year, should a new fisheries agreement with the UK be concluded prior to that date.

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Downing Street said it would “look closely” at the contingency proposals by the EU, but suggested it could reject the offer on fishing.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “As we’ve said throughout the negotiations, once we leave the end of the transition period, we will take back control of our waters.

“We would never accept arrangements and access to UK fishing waters which are incompatible with our status as an independent coastal state.”

Conservative Brexiteers warned Mr Johnson not to agree to the no-deal contingency plans being offered by the EU.

Tory MP David Jones – a senior member of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers – told Sky News: “They seem to want access to our fish without giving anything in return.

“That is not a deal, that is appropriation.”

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage accused the EU of a “huge insult” over its offer on fishing.

“The contingency planning from the European Commission on fishing is that things carry on the same next year as they have this year, which would mean the French getting 90% of the haddock quota in the South West.

“So I think that’s actually a huge insult yet again.”

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The European Commission said the aim of the “targeted” contingency measures – to be agreed on a reciprocal basis – is to cater for the period during which there is no trade deal in place.

It added that “if no agreement enters into application, they will end after a fixed period”.

“Negotiations are still ongoing,” Ms von der Leyen said.

“However, given that the end of the transition is very near, there is no guarantee that if and when an agreement is found, it can enter into force on time.

“Our responsibility is to be prepared for all eventualities, including not having a deal in place with the UK on 1 January 2021.

“That is why we are coming forward with these measures today.”

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