Serious issues over Brexit deal remain unresolved, UK minister says

There are deep rifts over fishing rights, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirms

British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick

Britain and the European Union have still not clinched a Brexit trade deal as serious issues remain unresolved that prevent PM Boris Johnson signing up, a British minister said on Wednesday, cited by Reuters.

“I’m still reasonably optimistic but there’s no news to report to you this morning,” British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News amid speculation in London that a deal could be announced on Wednesday. “There’s still the same serious areas of disagreement,” he said. “But at the moment there isn’t sufficient progress. It isn’t a deal that the prime minister feels he can sign us up to,” he added.

Meanwhile British government sources confirmed that Boris Johnson has established a 'hotline' to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen as the two sides try to thrash out a deal before Christmas.

The EU is making a “final push” to strike a trade deal with Britain, although there are still deep rifts over fishing rights, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday before meeting EU ambassadors in Brussels. Barnier told the closed-door gathering that the UK’s latest offer on sharing out the fish catch from British waters from 2021 was “totally unacceptable”, according to EU diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity. The sources said Britain has offered a 35% cut over three years in the value of the bloc’s catch for demersal fish like the sole that live close to the sea floor or the shore.

But that would not cover pelagic fish like the mackerel that live in open waters, where the catch would be subject to annual negotiations.

EU sources also said there was no clarity on the crucial zone stretching 6-12 nautical miles from UK shores where many smaller French or Belgian vessels fish. The loss of such access could not be compensated in the open seas.

Walking away might elicit applause from many Brexiteers but would trigger severe trade disruption. An accord would ensure that the goods trade which makes up half of annual EU-UK commerce, worth nearly a trillion dollars in all, would remain free of tariffs and quotas.

The European Union needs at least four days to carry out procedures ensuring any agreement is applied from 1 January, EU diplomatic sources said, meaning a deal is needed by early next week to avoid trade ruptures.


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