Fishing the ‘major bone of contention’ as Brexit talks enter ‘last week or so’, says foreign secretary

The EU and UK are entering “the last week or so” of “substantive” post-Brexit trade negotiations, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has told Sky News.

With the Brexit transition period set to end in little more than a month’s time, Mr Raab suggested talks might soon be reaching a conclusion.

However, he called on the EU to accept a “point of principle” on fisheries, an issue he described as having been a “major bone of contention” in reaching a deal.

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Brexit talks an ‘ongoing process’ – Barnier

“As we leave the transition (period), we are an independent coastal state – we’ve got to be able to control our waters,” the foreign secretary told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

“We can talk about transitions and things like that and we recognise the impact it has on other countries around Europe.

“But that principle comes with sovereignty, comes with leaving not just the EU but the transition period.

“I think the answer is, can the EU accept that point of principle that comes with us leaving the political club?”

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Face-to-face negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU recently resumed after Brussels’ chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team had been forced to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test among their number.

Speaking in London on Sunday afternoon, Mr Barnier told reporters the negotiations were an “ongoing process”, adding: “Let us work, let us work.”

A flotilla of fishing boats leave South Shield Fish Quay, near Newcastle in a protest, organised by Campaign for an Independent Britain and Fishing for Leave, against the deal that will see the UK obeying the EU Common Fisheries Policy for the transition period of Brexit.
Image: The foreign secretary told the EU to accept a ‘point of principle’ on fishing

Mr Raab appeared to reject what is reported to be the EU’s current offer on fishing – to return between 15-18% of fish stocks currently caught by EU fleets in British waters.

He said: “Does that sound right? 18% of control over fish in our own waters. That can’t be right.”

Asked if a possible deal could collapse over the issue of fisheries, Mr Raab added: “I think it’s important the EU understand the point of principle.

“If they show the pragmatism, the goodwill and the good faith that, in fairness, has surrounded the last leg of the talks – and certainly we’ve shown our flexibility – I think there’s a deal to be done.”

On other outstanding issues, the foreign secretary said it “feels like there’s progress towards greater respect” for the UK’s position on so-called “level playing field” commitments – a set of post-Brexit common rules and standards.

Mr Raab said the coronavirus pandemic – and the accompanying economic crisis – “ought to focus all of our minds on doing everything we can to give the economy a bit of a boost – both on the UK side but also on the continental European side”.

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And, asked when the final deadline for a deal might be, the foreign secretary replied: “I’m a bit reticent to give an ultimate backstop because the goalposts sometimes shift on the EU side.

“But I think we’re into the last week or so of substantive negotiations. To be honest with you, the EU do shift the goalposts.”

Without a trade deal being agreed before 31 December, the EU and UK will likely trade from 1 January on World Trade Organisation terms – with the establishment of tariffs in both directions.

Number 10 sources said a no-deal outcome was “arguably underpriced” ahead of “what may be the final week of trade negotiations”.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon told Sophy Ridge on Sunday his party “want to see a deal”, but added: “Until we see the construct of a deal, we can’t confirm our support for it.”

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